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What is NAREN?

The National At-Risk Education Network (NAREN) is a private, non-sectarian, non-profit educational agency dedicated to both promoting the success of at-risk youth in our schools, and supporting the professionals who work on their behalf.

Supposedly an aeronautical expert had once determined that, due to its unwieldy body and disproportionately small wing size, the bumblebee was incapable of flying.

Yet fly it does.

Many people, including some school personnel, believe that attempting to train and educate at-risk children and youth is a waste of time because “they will never amount to much anyway.” At times, even some dedicated educators, counselors, and social workers feel helpless and inadequate in reaching the at-risk population due to lack of resources, funding shortfalls, insufficient training, or other impediments to providing appropriate services. Many at-risk children and youth, with the help of committed professionals, do still learn to fly despite the great weights they often carry with them.

This allegory inspired Dr. Anthony Dallmann-Jones to utilize the bumblebee as the National At-Risk Education Network’s logo when he founded NAREN on January 1, 2001. NAREN’s main goal is to support educational stakeholders in helping at-risk children and youth develop their natural abilities and soar toward their highest dreams.

The Purpose of “School” and the Definition of “At-Risk”: The NAREN Proposal

There are several official definitions of the term “at-risk” — ridiculously, they are all different. This creates unnecesssary and certainly non-productive confusion. Because the “at-risk issue” is a continuing — and even expanding — problem, shouldn’t we first definitively state what the problem is? Following that, shouldn’t we be very serious about solving this problem of children dropping out of school?

A bit of history: Begun in 1905 and ordained by the US Congress in 1906, the Carnegie Unit was approximately 125 hours of “seat time” in a particular subject area. The Carnegie Unit was established to guarantee that a “credit” was the same in each state school system. A credit of math in Idaho had as many hours of seat time as a credit of the same math in Ohio. Then the next step was predictable: A high school diploma in one state should be a guarantee that graduates across states had the same basic number of credits/Carnegie Units in the core areas of social studies, English, math, and science. Being labeled at-risk was part of a phrase applied usually to high school juniors as they neared the end of high school: …at-risk of dropping out of school prior to completion of the official number of Carnegie Units.

We lock our children into 13 years of school. Thirteen of their most formative years are basically contracted with the public school system to do a quality job with our children. We certify teachers, the administrators, the guidance counselors, the school social workers, nurses, and psychologists, so the children will get a GOOD education. The children come to us for 13 years and, at this time, in many districts we have more dropping out than ever before. We have a failure to complete rate of over 25% nationally, and schools are beginning to hide their statistics because they are often embarrassing. This is a major problem. In his book, Shadow Children, Dr. Anthony Dallmann-Jones says it is “Education’s #1 Issue”.

NAREN believes we should begin our solution with a new and helpful definition of just what “at-risk” means. We suggest that this poor defining is a root issue in our dropout problem — the issue that allows children to exit our schools prematurely and/or ill-equipped for life. NAREN, as a result of its research, has constructed a new, progressive, and more effective definition.

The school contracts with the parents (and society) and — we forget this part — the child — and says, in effect, “In the the next 13 years, we will provide you with a good education so you can have a great life.” Yet in this thirteen year process of educating our youth, a majority of our public schools complain they are overburdened, stretched to the breaking point in many ways, especially financially. We must make some significant changes. We are losing our youth! Sometimes it feels like we are in a war to save them.

Schools cannot deny that they have taken a large portion of interest in our youth’s success, but seem powerless to stem the tide of dropouts, much less guarantee it is doing all it can to provide our young with a better chance at a successful life. In light of this statement it is important to underline NAREN’s context on the major goal of SCHOOL, and that is: Schooling is in the Success Business. A student, by attending school, should experience a better chance at success in life than one who does not attend school. If this can be accepted as a true statement, then the act of dropping out can be seen for the serious issue that it is. Students who drop out will experience diminishing chances of success in life. Everyone wants a successful life. The school’s responsibility is to do its best at manifesting that in each student.

Therefore, as the term at-risk grows in importance it also becomes more clearly defined. NAREN proposes the following definition:

Students are placed at-risk when they experience a significant mismatch between their circumstances and needs, and the capacity or willingness of the school to accept, accommodate, and respond to them in a manner that supports and enables their maximum social, emotional and intellectual growth and development.

[The key term is "mismatch" and the results of this mismatch are described below under the heading "Who is At-Risk?" and the two classifications beneath it.]

Since 1/01/01 NAREN has been incorporated as a 501c3 non-sectarian, non-affiliated, educational non-profit organization dedicated to not only dropout prevention and intervention, but also helping to transform certified educators into professionals who know what they are doing, why they are doing it and how he or she impacts a student now and in the future.

To that end these are our goals and the means by which we achieve them.

Who is At-Risk?

There is serious debate over exactly what the term “at-risk” means. Some deny there is need for such a term. The National At-Risk Education Network defines “at-risk” youth as:

  • At-risk of dropping out of school;
  • At-risk of not succeeding in life due to being raised in unfavorable circumstances.

Youth At-Risk of Dropping Out of School

Facts we know:

According to figures from the Children’s Defense Fund, 1 of every 8 school children will not graduate. The United States Census school enrollment projections for the year 2000 were 53,445,000 children. This means that the population currently at-risk of dropping out could be as many as 6,680,625 children. The financial future of high school dropouts is grim. Charts illustrating significant differences in potential monetary success can be found on the About NAREN page.

Youth At-Risk from a Bad Start

Every day in America*:

  • 4 children are killed by abuse or neglect
  • 1 young person dies from HIV infection
  • 5 children, or teens, commit suicide
  • 8 children are killed by firearms
  • 181 children are arrested for violent crimes
  • 383 children are arrested for drug abuse
  • 2,383 children are reported abused or neglected
  • 1,153 babies are born to teen mothers
  • 2,411 babies are born into poverty
  • 2,261 children drop out of high school every school day (1 of every 4 high school freshmen fails to finish high school in four years in the USA — multiply that by 180, and the annual figure astounds!)
  • 4,356 children are arrested

This is every day! Multiply these figures (except for the dropout numbers) by 365 if you can bear it. Also:

  • 9,200,000 children are without health insurance
  • 12,423,000 children live in poverty

All the children included in the above statistics (and more categories not listed) come to school carrying their burdens and issues with them. It is safe to assume that many of the children represented in the above figures are, indeed, at-risk of having decreased horizons of success. By default our schools have become the focus of efforts to address at-risk issues. Schools readily admit they are both inadequately informed and inadequately prepared for this immense task, but this has not stopped many of them from making the noble effort.

* These statistics are from Children’s Defense Fund 2008.

How NAREN Makes a Difference

The National At-Risk Education Network will make a significant contribution to increasing the success of at-risk children in the following ways:

Action Goals

  • Disseminate Critical Information Regarding At-Risk Education;
  • Provide Support for Educators Working With At-Risk Children;
  • Provide Networking Opportunities for At-Risk Education Stakeholders;
  • Assist Communities in Planning, Developing & Implementing At-Risk Educational Programs;
  • Provide Staff Training for At-Risk School Personnel;
  • Research Prevention & Intervention Methods, and Best Practices & Programs for At-Risk Education; and
  • Produce At-Risk Education Conferences.


Goal Vehicles

  • NAREN Web Site & NAREN Newsletter (Goals 1, 2, 3);
  • Research Center for At-Risk Education (RCARE) (Goal 6);
  • NAREN Teacher Training Center (Goals 2, 3, 4, 5);
  • Conference Planning & Production Staff (Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 7); and
  • Formation of NAREN State Chapters (Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7).


Optimal Long Term Goals

  • Develop certification standards for at-risk education programs;
  • Share at-risk education research and information internationally.

There is no doubt that our communities are battling to protect their young people, and in many cases it is literally a matter of life and death. It is NAREN’s goal to assist educators and educational systems to reach the at-risk population and help them to not only survive but to succeed in life.