Forced to choose: school or family?

By Carlie Hanson

It was between him, my brother, or school. I thought I made the right decision and I took care of my brother. My mom had to work three jobs and I’m the baby of five siblings and nobody wanted to step up and help my mom, so that left me, which is why I had to drop out of high school.”

During the 2011/2012 school year, nearly 6,000 students enrolled in grades 7-12 in the Philadelphia County Public School System dropped out of school. Unfortunately, poverty and homelessness are common contributors to this problem. Kids experiencing homelessness or home insecurity are more likely to drop out of school compared to their housing secure counterparts.

Why do kids drop out of school?

Many reasons cause kids to drop out of school. In the U.S., almost one in four high school dropouts are forced to leave school to care for family members. One particular journey2home student shared his heartbreaking story about leaving school to care for his brother.

“After school, I had to come home every day and take care of my brother while all of my friends were out playing sports or sports in high school or sitting outside playing around. I had to be in the house every day to watch, feed, bathe and get him ready for bed. My mom had to get a job to support us which is why I had to start off early taking care of brother. She had to find a job to get us out of this house, so somebody had to watch my brother. And I didn’t mind stepping up. My other siblings didn’t want to do it.”

The young man learned that trying to stay in school was extremely challenging.

“Between [life in the shelter] and high school, I was struggling and I was up all night with my brother. He would get sick and then I’d be up early and go to school. [I’d] Have to rush home to get my brother off the bus…because if nobody was home, they would take him back to school and we had no way of getting him. So it was like so very stressful for me rushing in between. I couldn’t really concentrate on my schoolwork.”

And he was forced to make a decision.

“I had to leave high school. And I was upset about it, but it’s my brother and my brother needs me. I made the right decision. That’s my brother and I love him. So when you love somebody you sacrifice things for them and I had no problem doing it. If I had to do it again, I would without even thinking about it. He has Down’s syndrome and I’ve been taking care of him since I was 12. So when I think of home, I think of him always.”

How can completing high school improve a person’s life?

  • High school graduates earn $9,200 more per year and are three times less likely to be welfare recipients compared to those who drop out of high school.
  • High school graduates are less likely to suffer from illness or disability.
  • High school graduates live longer and are less likely to die prematurely from cardiovascular disease, cancer, infection, injury and diabetes.

We want to hear from you!
Tell us how you think advocacy can help young adults stay in school. What types of programs have you seen that work in favor of keeping these students in school?

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