Hartford Students Improve School Attendance

Thursday, January 2, 2014

September 2013

Truancy is a serious problem in Hartford schools, derailing students from achieving academic success, and often signaling much deeper issues affecting the students and their family. Fortunately, a program is having some success results in changing this destructive pattern.

The Truancy Court Prevention Project is helping students in two Hartford schools improve their attendance. And because research shows that patterns of absenteeism begin early on, the program is beginning to serve first and second graders.

In its sixth year, the goal of the Truancy Court Prevention Project is to reduce level of absences per school year to less than 10% and increase overall academic performance. A quarter of Hartford’s students miss more than 10 percent of school days, making them considered “chronically absent.”

For school year 2012-13, 81 percent of sixth, seventh and eighth graders in three Hartford schools who participated in the Truancy Court Prevention Project achieved 90 percent attendance or higher. Overall, attendance increased by 28 percent, with attendance at one school increasing by 54 percent.

A collaborative effort of The Village, the Center for Children’s Advocacy, the Capitol Region Education Council, a federal magistrate  and Superior Court Judges, the program is serving students at the Alfred E. Burr and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools. Travelers, Tow Foundation and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving have provided critical funding for the past three years to support the program. In addition, The Travelers is funding an expanded evaluation, enabling follow-up with the students after one year.

Curbing truancy

Truancy, which is highest in public schools in inner-cities where poverty rates are higher, is associated with students’ dropping out of school, alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and delinquency. In addition, students who are chronically truant require extra time from teachers; teachers have less time to spend with the regularly-attending students in the classroom when they must create make-up work for truants.

The Truancy Court Prevention Project offers students who are truant and their families a variety of resources and case management to address their individual needs, whether they are social, academic, behavioral or all three. Opportunities for positive youth development are provided.

 “The students we see are dealing with so many challenges, it’s no wonder they miss so many days of school,” said Hector Glynn, vice president for outpatient, behavioral health and community services at The Village. “But that’s exactly why they need to be in school, so they can overcome all that conspires to keep them in poverty and limit their potential. It’s encouraging that with support, advocacy and access to resources, we can keep these young people in school, and on a path to success.”

Allen’s story

Allen was one of the 60 students who participated in the program last year. As a sixth-grader, he had missed over 40 days of school, tried to commit suicide and was diagnosed with depression. Cautious of another social service program trying to help him, it took awhile for him to trust the TCPP case manager. But he did and after working closely with her throughout the year, Allen’s school attendance improved dramatically. He missed only one day that year.

As an 8th grader, Allen kept in contact with his case manager even though he wasn’t in the program. This turned out to be key because that year his brother, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attacked him. Allen was placed in a relative’s care, and his mother asked the TCPP case manager for help.

Understandably, Allen ended up missing many days of school. TCPP staff fought to get better accommodations for Allen so that he would be better prepared for high school. They worked with him and his teachers to ensure he received academic support — and he ended the year with an A in math. During the summer, they helped Allen to participate in a baseball league, while also helping him and his family determine which school he’d like to attend this fall, and complete the application. Allen is now attending a technical school.

Facing a Judge

In addition to case management, students participate in monthly informal court sessions, presided over by a judge, and where their attendance and academic progress is reviewed.

They also learn about the consequences of ongoing truancy from the judges from the Superior Court and Federal Magistrate, who volunteer their time. The judges build relationships with the students and are invested in their success.

Collaborating with The Village on the Truancy Court Prevention Project are The Center for Children’s Advocacy, which provides educational consultants and legal advocates, and the Capitol Region Education Council, which coordinates cross-age tutoring.

Reaching first graders

Because of research provided by The Center for Children’s Advocacy, the project was expanded to included first- and second-graders at the Burr school this year.

 “A thorough analysis of students’ academic histories is a first step in understanding patterns of absenteeism and creating support systems to help re-engage students in school,” according to Martha Stone, executive director of the Center, citing a report conducted for the Center. “What we found was that time and again, school records showed early warning signs of future academic difficulty. Over a quarter showed patterns of absenteeism as early as kindergarten and first grade.”

“So, we started a pilot project serving first- and second-graders to get students on a positive path and prevent absenteeism, to ensure that valuable learning opportunities are not lost,” said Glynn. “Preventing truancy and other negative child behaviors is so much more effective than trying to intervene and change them later on in their life.”

“This program involves working mostly with the parents since they determine if their young children attend school or not,” said Teresa Nieves, supervisor for the TCPP. “Our staff educate parents about how important it is for their children to be in school and provide them with the tools they need – given all that is going on in their lives to make that happen.”

For more information about the Truancy Court Prevention Project, contact Teresa Nieves at tnieves@villageforchildren.org or 860-236-4511.

About The Village: For more than 200 years, The Village for Families & Children has been working to build a community of strong, healthy families who protect and nurture children. We fulfill this mission by providing a full range of children’s behavioral health treatment, foster care and adoption, and community support services for children and their families in the Greater Hartford region.  For more information, visit www.villageforchildren.org or call 860-236-4511.