Program keeps truant students in school
Last spring, in an attempt to lower its chronic truancy rate, Pima County, Ariz., developed a pilot course to help high school students stay in school. “Educational Success” was developed for Abolish Chronic Truancy Now (ACT Now), a program of the County Attorney’s Office aimed at preventing juvenile crime by keeping kids in school.
“The number of truants in Pima County is elusive,” says Gene Bertie, director of ACT Now. However, he estimates that 10 percent of county students regularly skip school.
The problem has been identified as an early warning sign of delinquent behavior — 90 percent of the state’s prison inmates had chronic truancy records. In light of that statistic, ACT Now began looking for ways to keep students in school. “We wanted something that would build on their strengths,” Bertie says. “We were tired of saying, ‘Shape up or else.’”
Pima Community College partnered with ACT Now to begin Educational Success. Administered by the community college’s Public Safety Institute, the two-day, 16-hour class helps students improve learning skills.
In the class, the instructors incorporate study techniques, skills testing and career counseling. Sessions include a variety of activities such as role-playing and exercises in communication. “These young students need more than subject matter for graduation,” says David Rodenkirch, the Institute’s education coordinator.
Participants in the class are referred by the Center for Juvenile Alternatives, under contract to Juvenile Court, but, beginning this fall, schools may directly refer students even before they are cited for truancy. The cost per student is the standard cost of community college, which is $35 per credit, in addition to a $5 registration fee. This fall, some parents of the chronically truant students will be required to attend Pima College sessions to gain a deeper understanding of their children’s education and to learn better communication techniques.
“We are pleased to find that the course is a hit with these teens,” Bertie says. “All but two of 44 in the pilot said they really liked it, and 80 percent are now back in the classroom.”