Prevent Kids from Dropping Out of School with a Secret Angels Club

April 27, 2021

An at-risk student receives encouragement from his “secret angel.”

Students teetering on the edge of dropping out of school need help, and no one is better positioned to provide that help than teachers. In a situation where students may feel that few people, if any, care about their academic future, forming a Secret Angels Club can make all the difference.

What is a Secret Angels Club? It’s an organized effort by teachers to pay special attention to students who need help without them ever becoming aware they are the focus of that attention. The goal is to keep kids in school and on track to better their lives through education.

Students in Marian University’s Master of Arts in Education, Area of Focus: At Risk and Alternative Education learn about the clubs, which are the brainchild of Dr. Anthony Dallmann-Jones, director of the At Risk and Alternative Education MAE Program.

“The point is that this is preventable,” said Dr. Dallmann-Jones of school dropouts. “Some things may not be. Some things may be difficult to overcome. But that Shadow Children (at-risk kids) are not noticed or cared about in our schools today? This is a black eye made blacker by the fact that it is preventable. We can do something about this, and by next week!”

The Idea for Secret Angel Clubs

Dr. Dallmann-Jones writes about the Secret Angel Clubs in his book, “How to Connect with At-Risk Students.” The book, one of 14 published by Dr. Dallmann-Jones, is an update of the 2006 book “Shadow Children: Understanding Education’s #1 Problem.”

The seed for the idea that grew into the Secret Angels Clubs was planted in a Madison, Wisconsin survey asking teens why they dropped out of school. A colleague of Dr. Dallmann-Jones, Steve Hartley, included a multiple-choice question in the survey that included various reasons students might drop out.

One survey answer included the following: “None of the teachers or administrators in my school seemed to care about me.”  Of the students who filled out the survey, an astounding 97% ticked this choice.

“This is a shocking indictment about us as educators.” said Dr. Dallmann-Jones, adding that the survey was not just for one school but every school in Madison. Saddened and surprised by what he had learned, Dr. Dallmann-Jones set out to create a potential solution. He found it with the idea of a Secret Angels Club.

How to Set Up A Secret Angels Club

In his books, Dr. Dallmann-Jones provides a detailed guide on setting up a Secret Angels Club among teachers at a school. An overview of those steps includes the following.

Form a Club

Gather a group of teachers who are willing to show they care and want to prevent school dropouts among at-risk students. Teachers then must elect a Secret Angel Club coordinator from among their ranks.

Identify At-Risk Students

The teachers then identify the “Shadow Children” in the school who will be the focus of the effort of the Secret Angels Club.

Recruit More Club Members

Teachers in the club may also want to recruit other members from the ranks of adults at a school. As noted by Dr. Dallmann-Jones, sometimes custodians can make the best Secret Angels.

Pair Secret Angels with Students

The next step is to pair a Secret Angel with a student. There are two main rules to remember. First, the Secret Angel teacher should not have the designated child in their classroom. Second, the student can never know about their Secret Angel.

Take Action

Every week or two, the Secret Angel needs to make a point of making eye contact with the child and saying something positive and/or smiling. Dr. Dallmann-Jones warns not to overdo this. Doing this once every week or two is sufficient. He even suggests lines for the Secret Angel teacher:

  • “Well, hi there, Susie!” (With a look of pleasant discovery)
  • “Oh, Bob, you look super today!”
  • “Hey, Linda, how’s it going?”
  • “Well, doesn’t Chantall look terrific today!”
  • “There you are Harold! I was wondering if I would see you today!”

Dr. Dallmann-Jones said that direct eye contact and welcoming body language make the difference. He encourages Secret Angels teachers to make a point of “finding” the student in different places of the school and to think of subtle ways they can make the child’s day special. But no gifts of any kind are allowed – the child must never know about the Secret Angel.

He also encourages teachers to stay quiet about the club itself. “Remember, this is an underground movement,” he says. “No one outside the club need even know about it. To make a big to-do about it is the antithesis of the Secret Angel Club’s purpose.”

With these small but important acts, teachers can show potential school dropouts that someone does notice and care about them. That can be enough to change a student’s fortunes, both now and in the future.

“I am often reminded how much new programs cost the schools and, therefore, cannot be implemented. But how much will a Secret Angels Club impact the school’s budget?” asks, Dr. Dallmann-Jones.

“It means a lot, but costs nothing.”