On Thursday, January 12, 2012, the National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk (NDTAC) hosted a Webinar highlighting two school- and community- centered truancy prevention programs that target youth who are at risk of dropping out of school, and recovering those who have already dropped out.
Truancy, or unexcused absenteeism, has been linked to higher dropout rates and increased juvenile daytime crime. Simon Gonsoulin, the director of NDTAC and the Webinar’s host, outlined four types of risk factors of truancy: family factors, school factors, economic influences, and student variables. He discussed truancy prevention and the use of early warning systems (EWS) to identify students who may be at risk of dropping out, and also cited the National High School Center’s work on EWS and dropout prevention. Gonsoulin outlined six indicators of students who have the potential to fall off- track for high school graduation: attendance, course grades, course failures, grade point average, credit attainment, and behavior.
The Webinar highlighted two truancy prevention initiatives, Youth R.E.A.C.H. (Re-Engaging in Education through Action and Coordinated Help) from King County, Washington, and the Richmond Public Schools Dropout Prevention Initiative in Virginia. A pilot program of the Washington State Becca Taskforce, Youth R.E.A.C.H. is a three-tiered, graduated truancy diversion program that functions through a strong partnership between the school districts, juvenile court, and King County Prosecuting Attorney Office. In collaboration with one another, these three entities have agreed upon a memorandum of understanding, outlining the roles of each group. The schools and districts have the responsibility of monitoring attendance and intervening if a youth becomes truant. The juvenile court allows hearings to be postponed until after a youth has the chance to complete the intervention program and the prosecutor’s office works with the schools in determining which students should receive referrals to Youth R.E.A.C.H., and which ones should receive a hearing. Its goal is to increase attendance rates throughout its two pilot districts.
The Richmond Public Schools Dropout Prevention Initiative (DPI) is a prevention and recovery program aimed at increasing graduation rates by decreasing truancy in the district. DPI focuses on accounting for every child while in school, and supporting the reentry of those who have stopped attending. School staff consistently monitors attendance while the Truancy/Diversion Center along with local city and state partners work to recover dropouts. DPI conducts door-to-door visits to youth who have stopped attending school, and employs recovery specialists and intake counselors to work with recovering youth. It offers individualized learning plans for students, provides related professional development for staff, and runs a “Get In; Stay In” media campaign, as well as a district-wide mentoring program for youth and adults. Between the 2003-04 and 2010-11 school years, Richmond Public Schools has seen truancy rates decline from 26% to 7% district-wide, and the dropout rate shrink from 15% in 2003-04 to 1.5% in 2009/10.
Both programs stress collaborative efforts between school and court systems, government and community partners, as well as the importance of family outreach. They rely heavily on monitoring student data, providing social, emotional, and academic supports, and offering outreach and recovery programs that allow youth who have dropped out of school to come back and continue on their path toward graduation.
NDTAC’s Webinar audio, transcript, and presentation slides can be viewed here.