LAUSD eyes dropouts in new-media initiative

LOS ANGELES: A new outreach effort by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Rogers Group is leveraging new media in a unique way to encourage high-school dropouts to finish school.

The LAUSD, the US' second-largest school district, has a 25% dropout rate, said Debra Duardo, director of its dropout prevention and recovery program.

But with the October launch of "My Future, My Decision," the LAUSD hopes to reduce dropout numbers by 5% this school year, she added.

As part of the campaign, Rogers crafted a PR program that included viral cell-phone text messaging, as well as online social networking on MySpace and YouTube. Components rely heavily on peer-to-peer communication - success stories from "recovered" dropouts - to motivate students to return.

The LAUSD has aggressively appealed to potential dropouts and their families, bolstering its staff of diploma project advisers and pupil service counselors.

The new effort, however, takes a more experimental approach by reaching out to hard-to-reach former students "where they exist: online, listening to the radio, on MySpace," Duardo noted.

To develop its latest push, the LAUSD and Rogers coordinated English- and Spanish-language focus groups of dropouts and "very at-risk students," said agency SVP Naomi Goldman.

Themes of "personal responsibility and accountability," and reliance on new-media channels echoed throughout those meetings, she said, helping to shape Rogers' strategy.

The LAUSD also teamed with urban teen-targeted radio stations Power 106 and V100 for a promotion in which on-air talent talk about the value of a high-school diploma and direct listeners to the campaign Web site,

Additional campaign elements, such as dropout-recovery street teams and remote radio broadcasts, will likely be added during the school year.

Once the effort has captured students' attention, the LAUSD will "address the barriers keeping them from being in school," from work obligations to pregnancy to boredom, Duardo said.

For returning students, "there are all kinds of options," she said. "They don't have to do it the traditional way."

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