Positive Ways to Deal with Truancy

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson, we discuss positive ways to deal with the ever-present problem of truancy in the school system. We discuss the combined role of parents, educators, and the community, along with the growing use of technology to aid in keeping students in school.

What is Truancy?

Thousands of students skip school on a daily basis without a valid reason. Truancy is when an adolescent regularly misses school without reasonable excuses, and is often referred to as chronic absenteeism. A number of experts believe the ultimate solution for truancy lies in a collaborative effort between parents, schools, and the community at large.

Over half of states require that students attend school for at least 180 days per year. However, no national standard exists for determining how many days a student can legally miss each year. Truancy can be divided into three categories:

  • Chronic Absenteeism - This tends to apply to students through third grade, and involves a student missing more than ten percent of days each year. In this case, parents usually know about the situation, as skipping school is usually done by older students.
  • Habitual Truancy - This can be defined as missing several days in a row or a certain number of days per semester or year.
  • Chronic Truancy - This is the worst form of being truant and involves the student continuing to pile up absences, often despite court mandates to attend school.

Positive Methods to Deal with Truancy

What are some original and positive ways that educators and administrators can deal with truancy? A school district in California implemented a program titled ''Count Me In!'' The school gives out prizes such as cameras, computers, and even cars in drawings. If the students want to be eligible to win one of the prizes, they must meet certain attendance criteria every month, semester, or year. The theory was that this would stop students from skipping school for absences that were not emergencies or involved serious illness. The program worked, and the district increased attendance by over 50 percent!

Furthermore, many school districts have moved away from the old negative model of suspending truant students, and instead are trying to work with communities. Local businesses have been cooperative, because this can reduce crime in daylight hours and provide more skilled laborers.

Schools are also setting up review boards so that truancy situations can be monitored more closely, and are implementing computerized methods of tracking attendance. This way, schools can notify parents and work with them in more positive and productive manners.

A school district in Washington state designed a unique mentoring program called the ''A-Team.'' The idea was to group at-risk students, who were prone to being absent, with a positive, caring mentor. Students even eat lunch with their mentor, and those with no absences can win free pizza. Results have been impressive, with some students even informing their parents they need to get to school.

Finally, a school district in Hawaii has decided that prevention is indeed the best medicine. It has implemented both PACT (Partnering to Assess and Counteract Truancy) and ESAP (Elementary School Attendance Program). The programs utilize letters sent home and stress involving the parents. Not only did attendance improve, but academic scores improved as an extra benefit.

Positive Alternatives to Detention

Administrators, Educators, and Parents Working Together

It takes a full team effort to combat truancy. For example, a county in Maryland has a program designed to battle truancy titled VolunteerMatch. The State's Attorney's office, in conjunction with the local school system, seeks out parents and other adults to work as both mentors and tutors for a few hours per week. Other similar nascent programs are being implemented in other states.

Other districts have started after-school detention programs. This offers a chance for parents, teachers, and even administrators to sit down with the students and talk to them and be mentors, instead of at-risk students talking to each other, or sitting alone. After all, an ongoing debate exists as to whether simply assigning detention is an effective means for reducing truancy, and grouping at-risk students together sometimes leads to less good and more harm. Furthermore, detention can cost over $100 per day per student.

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