School Dropout Prevention in the Durham Public Schools: Development, Implementation and Evaluation of Effective Strategies (2016-2017)


Project team leaders have been working with administrators and school staff within Durham Public Schools to create, pilot-test, implement and evaluate new interventions for middle school and high school dropout prevention. The focus to date has been on high-risk students, both because they represent the greatest need from the perspective of the Durham community and because at present there are few empirically validated programs available that target high-risk students. Their primary venue is Lakeview School, and they are also working with Durham Public Schools administration to pilot-test and implement a novel program (also for high-risk high school students) that will involve connecting them with a community college course with topical content relevant to dropout prevention.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project takes an interdisciplinary, developmental approach to educational attainment and young adult life success. The team's theoretical approach to school dropout prevention involves an appreciation and consideration of a social science systems approach; a positive youth development perspective; an emphasis on early identification of who is at-risk for dropping out; and an emphasis on the importance of strengthening social capital in the form of providing direct support and encouragement to at-risk students.

The project has two overarching goals: 1) implementing and evaluating scalable interventions targeting students within the highest-risk categories; and 2) developing and solidifying a collaborative relationship with Durham Public Schools that focuses on community-based research and opportunities for student engagement, collaborative research and meaningful change in educational policies and practices at the district level.

With this specific focus on dropout prevention, the team's aim is to continue to refine a model for effective university-community partnerships that empowers undergraduate students to become active resources within their communities. The team also aims to validate the collaborative model itself, with the goal of establishing guidelines and best practices for implementation (and ultimately, the ability to focus the collaboration on a broad range of social issues).

The team will be expanding implementation across multiple schools; conducting a longer-term follow-up assessment of the efficacy and feasibility of interventions via access to district-wide DPS data; and exploring ways to assess neurodevelopmental impact of the interventions within the interpersonal contexts that influence behaviors.

Team members will often work directly with school personnel and/or other stakeholders in the dropout prevention process. Other activities include making regular visits to schools to meet with administrators, tour school sites, interview principals and other school professionals and staff and engage in one-on-one or group mentoring of students at risk of dropping out.

Anticipated Outcomes

Analysis and writeup of proof-of-concept evaluation for the leadership curriculum; developmental evaluation of first iteration for community-college-course intervention; district-wide policies and procedures to implement leadership curriculum at each DPS high school; selection and implementation of pilot neurocognitive assessment; submission of coauthored manuscript presenting initial findings regarding leadership curriculum; evaluation of implementation of leadership curriculum; evaluation of neurocognitive assessment data


Fall 2016 – Summer 2017

The team meets on Thursdays, 3:00-5:00 p.m., Room 230M, Gross Hall.

See earlier related team, Disconnected Youth and School Dropout Prevention (2014-2015).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Ann Brewster, Duke Social Science Research Institute*
Timothy Strauman, Trinity - Psychology & Neuroscience*

Undergraduate Team Members

Hannah Barton
Lisa Guraya, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Alexandra (Sasha) Karelov
Attyat Mayans, Public Policy Studies (AB)

* denotes team leader