Low expectations from teachers, an absence of parental involvement and irregular access to a home computer contribute to high dropout rates and school disengagement.

According to findings based on surveys of 960 young residents in Montgomery County, Maryland, disconnection at home and in school feeds a significant achievement gap. The dropout rate for Latinos is the highest among all racial and ethnic groups in Montgomery County, and in many other areas in the nation. Since 2000, Latino enrollment has swelled from 16 percent to 27 percent across all grades. This could mean that a failure to jumpstart student engagement will lead to a greater escalation of student failure a few years down the line.

A new report from The Community Foundation, "Connecting Youth to Opportunity: How Latino Youth Perspectives Can Inform a Blueprint for Improving Opportunity in Montgomery County, Md.," reflects the experiences of students who have graduated from high school, dropped out or are currently enrolled. Many students who  attend poorly funded schools must also endure a lack of parental involvement, fewer resources and less academic support. Those conditions contribute to an overall detachment from school and the labor market, resulting in nearly 60 percent of non-graduates abandoning school at the age of 16 or 17.

"The message is that we have got to come together," said C. Marie Henderson, director of the Montgomery County affiliate of the Community Foundation. "It's a community issue that we all have to tackle together."

Stronger relationships between students and school staff must be harnessed, as it is a critical ingredient for student success. Latino students who said they experienced low expectations from high school teachers or counselors were 3.5 times more likely to report being dropouts, and foreign-born students were more affected than their U.S.-born counterparts (1.5 times more likely). Also, undocumented youth were 5 times more likely than documented foreign-born youth to become dropouts.

Not speaking English well, a lack of peer connections, social exclusion, substance abuse, pregnancy, absence of concern or conversation about academics, negative perceptions of school environments, and depression were listed as forecasters for dropping out. And, the strongest predictor was a poor GPA during the student's final year in school.

Forty-five percent of those surveyed said that they had not been offered academic support prior to failing a course. Sixty-seven percent of current high school students reported that they had poor study skills. Fifty percent of high school students reported low teacher encouragement or support. And 60 percent of the students still in school indicated low levels of emotional support from their parents.

The report recommended that school leaders work with the community to construct an action plan, which emphasizes a need for cultural competency training for staff members, improved parental engagement, and academic intervention for struggling students. Strengthening civic engagement and school involvement among Latino parents and students is good for the child and for the community; students who feel that their community cares about them tend to care about their community.