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At-Risk Students Must Believe They Can Change Their Future

"If you can give young people a reason to believe that they can change their future, then it is much easier to deal with violence and substance abuse and teenage pregnancy," Dr. David Satcher, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the New York Times recently. "We've found that those were not the problems; they were the symptoms. When young people don't have any hope for the future, they'll do anything."

For at-risk students, the key to success in high school lies in convincing them that a satisfying future is within their grasp, and then showing them how their education relates to their future goals. As Jere Brophy, writing in Educational Leadership, says, "People do not invest effort in tasks that do not lead to valued outcomes even if they know they can perform the task successfully."

For the mainstream students in any school, that valued outcome is obvious: to get into college. Those who do not expect to attend college, however, are often confused as to why they should care about getting a good grade in English, or even finishing high school at all.

Making High Schools Work, a book published by the Southern Regional Educational Board, concurs: "Students who don't see a connection between high school and future success are doomed to spend their school years in a 'neutral' position," it reports. "The way to turn on turned-off students is to help them understand the role of high school achievement in reaching their goals in life as well as in education and employment."

Career Choices is designed to help students project themselves into the future, to help them believe in themselves, and to show them that, through education, they can live a successful life.

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