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At-Risk Students: Success and Interventions

January 30, 2023 - 7 minute read

An at-risk student is a student who is at risk of not meeting academic or social expectations or of not graduating from high school. At-risk students may require extra support and resources to succeed in school and reach their full potential. Several factors can contribute to a student being at risk of not meeting academic or social expectations or not graduating from high school (Baum & McPherson, 2019; Watson & Gemin, 2008). 

Some students who may be considered at-risk include:

  1. Students with academic difficulties or who are performing poorly in school (Addis et al.,2020; Horton, 2015)
    Students from low-income families or who are facing financial challenges (Horton, 2015)
  2. Students with learning or physical disabilities (Addis et al.,2020; Gil, 2021).
  3. Students who are struggling with social or emotional issues (Horton, 2015)
  4. Students who are English language learners or who come from non-English speaking households (Barrington, 2022).
  5. Students who have experienced trauma or who have unstable home environments (Addis et al.,2020; Horton, 2015)

It is important to note that any student can be at risk and that at-risk students come from all backgrounds and have a wide range of needs. At-risk students often have unique needs and may require extra support and resources to be successful in school. 

Some of the things that at-risk students may need to succeed include:

  1. Academic support: At-risk students may need additional help with their coursework, such as tutoring, extra time to complete assignments, or accommodations for learning disabilities (Dobizl, 2002; Gil, 2021; Horton, 2015).
  2. Social and emotional support: At-risk students may benefit from counseling or other social and emotional support to help them cope with challenges and succeed academically (Asanov et al., 2021).
  3. A safe and supportive learning environment: At-risk students may need a safe and supportive learning environment free from distractions and negative influences (Dobizl, 2002).
  4. Access to resources: At-risk students may need textbooks, technology, and other materials to succeed in school (Adnan & Anwar, 2020).
  5. Positive role models: At-risk students may benefit from having positive role models who can provide guidance and support and help them develop goals and aspirations for the future (Dobizl, 2002).
  6. Flexibility: At-risk students may benefit from flexible scheduling and other accommodations to balance their academic and personal commitments (Jacobs, 2016; Lynch & Dembo, 2004).

Depending on their specific needs and challenges, many interventions can be effective for at-risk students. Some examples of interventions that may be helpful for at-risk students include:

  1. Alternative education programs: At-risk students may benefit from alternative education programs that provide a more flexible and individualized approach to learning, such as online learning or credit recovery programs (Addis et al.,2020; Gil, 2021).
  2. Mentoring: At-risk students may benefit from having a mentor who can provide guidance and support and help them develop goals and aspirations for the future (Gil, 2021; Horton, 2015).
  3. Parent and family involvement: Involving parents and families in a student's education can be an effective intervention for at-risk students, as it can help to improve communication and increase support for the student (Dobizl, 2002; Gil, 2021).
  4. Vocational and career counseling: At-risk students may benefit from career counseling and guidance to help them explore their interests and career options and make informed decisions about their future (Fix et al., 2019).

And as stated before, Academic support and social and emotional support. At-risk students may benefit from extra help with their coursework, extra time to complete assignments or accommodations for learning disabilities, and counseling or other social or emotional support to help them cope with challenges and succeed academically. 

My research exposed the idea that students and educators have separate perceptions of what is the most beneficial to student success. Students revealed that teacher support was the main influence on their ability to obtain their high school diplomas. 

There are several ways that teachers can connect with at-risk students and build positive relationships:

  1. Show interest and concern: At-risk students may feel more connected to their teachers if they feel that their teachers are genuinely interested in and concerned about their well-being. Teachers can show interest by asking students about their lives outside of school and being available to listen to and support them (Modlin, 2008).
  2. Be approachable: At-risk students may be more likely to reach out to teachers if they feel that their teachers are approachable and open to communication. Teachers can be approachable by making themselves available to students before or after class or by setting up office hours for students to drop in (Baum and McPherson, 2019).
  3. Build trust: Trust is an essential foundation for positive relationships, and at-risk students may be more likely to trust teachers who are consistent, reliable, and fair. Teachers can build trust by being dependable, following through on their commitments, and being fair and consistent in their treatment of students (Dobizl, 2002).
  4. Encourage open communication: Encouraging open and honest communication can help to build trust and foster positive relationships between teachers and at-risk students. Teachers can encourage open communication by listening to students’ concerns and being open to feedback and suggestions (Modlin, 2008).
  5. Respect differences: At-risk students may have different backgrounds, experiences, and needs than their peers. Teachers can respect these differences by being open-minded and inclusive in their interactions with students (Baum and McPherson, 2019).

The high school dropout rate in the United States has declined significantly recently, but it remains a concern for many students and communities. With a high school diploma, these students can: Improve job prospects, enhance personal and professional opportunities, achieve a sense of accomplishment, increase their earning potential, enter the workforce, and pursue higher education (Watson & Gemin, 2008). Overall, at-risk students need access to the same resources and support as their peers to ensure their success and well-being. As Christian Larson stated, "Believe in yourself and all you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle."




Addis, D. S., Greer, D. K., & Dunlap, L. (2020). National Dropout Prevention Center. 21.

Adnan, M. & Anwar, K. (2020). Online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Student’s perspectives. Journal of Pedagogical Sociology and Psychology, 1(2), 45–51. 

Asanov, I., Flores, F., McKenzie, D., Mensmann, M., & Schulte, M. (2021). Remote-learning, time-use, and mental health of Ecuadorian high-school students during the COVID-19 quarantine. World Development, 138, 105225. 

Baum, S., & McPherson, M. (2019). The human factor: the promise & limits of online education. Daedalus, 148(4), 235–254. 

Barrington, K. (2022). What is the Impact of High School Graduation Rates? Retrieved 17 April 2022, from 


Fix, G. M., Ritzen, H. T. M., Pieters, J. M., & W, A. J. M. K. (2019). Effective curricula for at-risk students in vocational education: a study of teachers’ practice. Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, 11(1), 1.

Gil, A. A. (2021). Students Succeed in the Respond to Every Academic Crisis Holistically (REACH) Program: A Positive Education Journey for Students At-Risk (Order No. 28772032). Available from Publicly Available Content Database. (2594716064).

Horton, J. (2015). Identifying At-Risk Factors That Affect College Student Success. 7(1).

Jacobs, J. (2016). Education Next. Cambridge Vol. 16, Iss. 3. 

Lynch, R., & Dembo, M. (2004). The relationship between self-regulation and online learning in a blended learning context. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 5(2). 

Modlin, C. D. (2008). Student-teacher relationships and their effect on student achievement at the secondary level (Order No. 3336717). Available from Publicly Available Content Database. (304380129).

Watson, J and Gemin, B. (2008). Using online learning for at-risk students and credit recovery. North American Council for online learning.  

Sara Winton is currently in her eighth year of education. Ms. Winton has been a teacher at LIFE Academy, a dropout prevention alternative learning program within the Lauderdale County School District for the past seven years. Ms. Winton served as a committee member that formed a virtual learning option within the district. She has currently defended her dissertation and is awaiting graduation with Cohort 13.

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