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The transition from middle to high school is a critical juncture for young people.  It’s easy to fall off track, but incredibly difficult to regain lost time when they do.

Fortunately, we now know which children and youth are at risk of dropping out as early as 6th grade.  Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have determined three strong Early Warning Indicators of high school dropouts, the ABC’s.  Sixth graders with any one of the following indicators have approximately a 15 percent chance of graduating from high school:

  • low attendance
  • poor behavior
  • course failure in math or English

United Way’s Early Warning Response System is based on Diplomas Now – a proven approach to helping the toughest schools in America’s largest cities ensure that students graduate ready for college or career. Developed in partnership with The Philadelphia Education Fund, this program helps schools identify and intervene with each student in need of academic and behavioral help to get back on track for graduation.

In addition, through the Impact Fund, United Way recruits volunteer tutors and mentors to provide one-on-one attention and support to targeted students. We also offer young people opportunities to explore career options, helping them connect their academic studies to a future job.  And we meet kids where they are through after-school programs – in their neighborhoods – with activities that they’re already interested in – cars, sports, comics, spoken word.  United Way knows that many of these programs are the lynchpin between our kids and success. So we help to support these programs and support staff, volunteers and parents through training, tools and resources.

By connecting with students during the school day, after school and through caring mentoring relationships, we’re helping kids realize their dreams…and achieve them.

Take Action

Volunteer your time.

Training opportunities (staff, volunteers, parents)

Learn more:

United Way Worldwide Education Strategies

Early Warning Systems to ID High School Dropouts

Early Warning Indicators

Early Warning Indicators: An Afterschool Guide

Resources for young people

Starting an after-school program

After School Alliance

PA Afterschool Youth Development Network


United Way's Education Agenda

The nation will spend approximately $3 trillion on more than 12 million students who will drop out in the next 10 years. However, decreasing the number of high school dropouts by half would produce $45 billion per year in net economic benefit to society. -The Brookings Institution