Tucson “Steps to Success” Effort Bringing Hundreds of Students Back to School

Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Deborah Ferryman

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In July 2014, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), the City of Tucson Mayor’s Office and other partner organizations launched a grassroots outreach initiative called Steps to Success. Teams of volunteers and school staff go door-to-door and reach out to students who have withdrawn from school.

Now in its third year, the program is having a measurable impact, and it’s growing in scope. In 2017 alone, more than 350 volunteers visited 205 students and encouraged them to return to complete their high school education. The team even recruits local celebrities to help spread the message – which youth have responded to with awe and excitement. Notable volunteers have included University of Arizona student athletes, local broadcasters, the Fire Chief, the Chief of Police and the Mayor himself.

Tucson Mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, is one of the hundreds of community, business and faith-based leaders who regularly participate in Steps to Success efforts. “Students need to know the community cares about their success,” said Mayor Rothschild. “Having volunteers come to your door, with staff, ready to get you back on track and enrolled in school, is huge. I’m very happy to participate in Steps to Success and help Tucson youth.”

Volunteers meet students who were at different points in their academic careers. Some students are a few credits short of their diplomas and just need a little extra encouragement to finish up, while other students need a significant number of classes and extra support to complete their requirements. They meet parents who were at their wits’ end and were grateful for some help and hope for their child’s future.

Each student who returns has a multi-tiered support system in place to ensure success. Their progress is closely monitored and there are a wide variety of ways that they can get back on track, including heading back to a traditional classroom, completing courses online and seeking other tracks. And the Steps to Success team has even created an additional program layer to prevent students from leaving school in the first place. By identifying and working with students who are chronically absent, they hope to decrease the number of youth who leave school. What’s more, TUSD has set up a Success Center at Catalina High School for students who wish to get information and assistance in completing their high school education.

In Pima County, 15 percent of youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither working nor in school. The Arizona Education Progress Meter is tracking this and statewide efforts to re-enroll more youth with the goal of dropping this figure to 7 percent by the year 2030. It’s all part of a movement to improve educational opportunities for all Arizona youth and boost postsecondary attainment to 60 percent.

From an economic standpoint, Steps to Success efforts will have a big impact. Every school dropout in the area creates more than $375,000 in economic losses over his or her lifetime. The impact of dropping out, on costs of health care, crime, etc. are substantial and losses to state and local government are in the hundreds of millions every year.

Every youth visited by Steps to Success has a unique story to tell and a singular set of challenges that has led them to step away from school. The Steps to Success team works to solve those problems and get kids back on track academically. In all, more than 500 students have been re-enrolled and nearly 100 have since graduated. It has been so successful that the model has already been replicated in Phoenix, and even in other states.

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