The First Lady’s Truancy Court Program Reception – Honoring the Students, Staff, and Supporters That Made Lasting Change a Reality This Year

Baltimore City District Court Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, Maryland’s First Lady, hosted the fifth annual Truancy Court Program (TCP) Reception on Monday, June 6. We had a record-breaking number of attendees, with over 200 TCP graduates, family members, and supporters.

TCP Graduates and Judges enjoy a celebratory dinner (Photo by A. Green)

We are very grateful to Judge O’Malley, who has continued to host this wonderful reception and has also volunteered as a TCP judge since the program’s inception six years ago. All of us at CFCC want to extend our deepest appreciation to Judge O’Malley and her staff for sponsoring and hosting the wonderful buffet dinner at Government House and the award ceremony in Maryland’s Miller Senate Building.

We are so very proud of all of our TCP graduates, all of whom have a moving story underlying their truant behavior. Take Darius Johnson (name changed for confidentiality), for instance, for whom the reception was the culmination of a long journey and a recognition of how far he has come and how high he still can climb.

When we met Darius at the beginning of the Fall 2010 TCP session, we were struck by his protectiveness and concern for his four younger siblings. We soon learned that he was the “man of the house” at the ripe age of fourteen, and that he too often sacrificed his own goals to the demands of his family responsibilities. His school attendance was a definite warning bell: he had 57 absences and tardies in the last two quarters of the fifth grade. But the TCP school team saw promise in him and his siblings and selected them all to participate in the TCP.

The TCP judge immediately engaged the family, providing both Darius’ mother and her children with a sympathetic but authoritative figure to whom they could explain their difficulties with attendance. The judge maintained a firm stance on the importance of coming to school each day, on time, remaining a consistent force during an often unpredictable and challenging time in this family’s life. The TCP judge met with the family once a week for ten weeks in the Fall and then with Darius individually during the Spring ten-week session to help guide them through their various challenges. The family struggled when their mother was briefly incarcerated in the winter, but with the support of the TCP team and extended family, Darius had the strength and willpower to make sure that he and his siblings had perfect attendance during that period.

We soon learned that Darius (who was already several years over-age for his grade) was in the sixth grade but reading at approximately a third grade level. He had not sought extra tutoring or support services and did not even tell the TCP team about his academic struggles – he was content to remain in the background, unnoticed, while his academically advanced siblings excelled. In fact, it was by accident that we found out about his difficulties. He had shown an interest in magic, so the TCP judge brought some magic tricks to the TCP meeting with Darius, only to discover that he had trouble reading the words on one of the cards. The next week, the TCP team brought a University of Baltimore TCP volunteer to tutor Darius, using educational materials donated by a TCP partner, Diakon Kathryn’s Kloset. The two immediately clicked. Darius’ mother told us he was reading the materials at home every day, and the tutor reported that he was making real progress. The TCP Mentor collaborated with the school team to ensure that Darius was assigned a more permanent tutor from an established program at the school.

By the time his name was called at the First Lady’s TCP graduation reception and he went to join his siblings and receive a “Governor’s Citation” from the First Lady, Darius was a dramatically different young man from the one whom we had first met at the beginning of the school year. He had an air of confidence and a more youthful and carefree demeanor. Not only were he and his siblings attending school regularly, but he was getting the support he needed to make significant academic progress. Through his involvement in the Truancy Court Program, he was able to make meaningful changes in his life and move one step closer to graduation and his dreams of success.

Proud Graduates head home with certificates in hand (Photo by A. Green)

There are hundreds of other children throughout Maryland like Darius, students whose lives have been touched and forever altered by the Truancy Court Program. Each TCP graduate’s journey is different – some come to the program requiring only minor tweaks and a little encouragement, while others need help with profound problems. For the majority of students who participate in the TCP, their stories end in triumph.

We at CFCC hope that our efforts to expand the Truancy Court Program and affect policy decisions will help ensure that all the students like Darius – and there are thousands in Baltimore City alone – will receive the resources and attention they need to graduate and to become productive members of our community.

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