Addressing Truancy in High Schools: Modifying Early Intervention Models

By Nicole Harris-Crest, CFCC Student Fellow 2012-2013

The Center for Children, Families, and the Courts (CFCC) Truancy Court Program (TCP) uses early intervention to address the problems that underlie truancy. Each week, TCP staff meet with students who are “soft” truants, having between five to twenty unexcused absences in a semester. The goal of the program is to prevent truancy and promote values, such as education, discipline and respect. By instilling these values, TCP staff hope to prevent students from leading a life of delinquency, crime, and violence. Thus far, the TCP has been successful as an early intervention program, particularly in elementary and middle schools. In the Fall 2011 session, the TCP saw an average reduction in unexcused absences of 71%. The question remains, however, whether an early intervention model, such as the TCP, can achieve similar success in high schools.

This year, the TCP participates in three high schools. One of these high schools is Patterson High School.  Patterson and TCP staff face a number of challenges as they seek to prevent truancy. These challenges are not unique to Patterson but occur in countless Baltimore City public high schools. Of those Patterson students participating in the TCP, many are ninth grade repeaters, who struggle with paying attention in the classroom, and who have more than twenty absences in a semester. Like many Baltimore City students, they also cope with issues of violence, drugs, and poverty on a daily basis. It is undeniable that some intervention is needed to assist these students. The disputed issue is exactly what kind.

Many argue that high school students no longer benefit from the skills and techniques used in early invention programs. Some techniques used by the TCP include: providing students with resources, such as alarm clocks, organizers, or bus passes; completing character building exercises where students are encouraged to have a positive attitude; and engaging in discussions on basic life skills, such as organization and time management. By high school, however, students often develop a serious history and pattern of truancy. In addition, many suffer from behavior problems and lack respect for authority figures. These are problems that go beyond what can be addressed in weekly TCP meetings.

Early invention models may not be the answer to preventing truant behavior in high school students. That said, the TCP is the only program of its kind in the Baltimore City Public Schools. As the TCP already has a long-standing history of preventing truancy and because TCP staff continuously study this issue, the best solution may be to modify the program to meet the needs of high school students.

One way to modify the program is to decrease the number of program participants in a given high school. Often ten students from a school are selected to participate in the TCP. By offering the program to fewer students, TCP staff can devote more time and attention to students’ needs. Although the TCP may not impact as many students, it may influence those students with greater issues and those more likely to engage in delinquency, violence, or criminal behavior in the future. Another option is to provide students with rigorous mentorship opportunities, where mentors take the time to speak with students regarding their academics, friends, home life, and problems. The TCP meets weekly with ten students for one hour. Thus, students are not given a great deal of one-on-one attention. Mentors can visit students in school, commit to monthly outings, and communicate with students by phone on a weekly basis.  The TCP also must develop a plan of action to address substance abuse issues.

A majority of high school students are  substance abusers. Bringing in substance abuse counselors, or perhaps former drug dealers or users, during TCP sessions may benefit students greatly. Finally, active parent involvement should be required for high school students to participate in the TCP. Although parents are required to sign a permission slip and consent to their child’s participation, it is equally important that parents attend at least one TCP session. It is important that parents reinforce the values and skills taught during the program. Without parental involvement, students could easily attend the TCP with little to no improvement. Students must know their parents are also committed to their academic success.

Baltimore City Public Schools face an up-hill battle in the challenge to educate high school students. Many high school students have developed negative behaviors that are very difficult to break. Currently, Baltimore City Public Schools are not equipped to deal with some of the profound and complex issues students face. It would be a disservice to our children, however, not to at least try. Communities, parents, grandparents, churches, and other organizations must work together to combat this challenge. Moreover, early invention programs, such as the TCP, must use their knowledge about truancy and the behaviors that underlie it to help save our youth.

0 thoughts on “Addressing Truancy in High Schools: Modifying Early Intervention Models

  1. Some excellent points, Nicole. But I'm glad you brought up the issue of substance abuse in high schools. It's a serious problem in so many of Baltimore City's high schools, particularly among males, and yet for some reason (maybe a bit of denial?) it seems to get very little attention compared to issues of violence and gang activity. The idea of connecting students to substance abuse counselors is a great one, but also having at least one member of the TCP team who is trained in screening for substance abuse problems would also be useful in identifying those students who need these services. While I agree with you that active parent involvement is a critical piece of TCP success for a lot of students, I disagree with you that it should be required. There are plenty of students for whom parental involvement would not be positive or may not even be possible, whether because of the parent's substance abuse, physical or sexual abuse in the home, or the absence of the parent. By making parental involvement a requirement of the program, we would effectively be shutting out some of the kids who need the program the most.

  2. I would have to agree that parent involvement should be a requirement for high school students in the Truancy Court Program (TCP). I do not believe parents need to attend every TCP session, but I do believe it would be beneficial for parents to attend at least one or two meetings throughout our 10 week session. The parent's attendance will not only benefit the student, but also the team members. Parents could provide the TCP team members with information that the student is unwilling to provide, while the team members can inform the parents of goals that the student has set for the upcoming week. I believe students need someone to follow-up with them outside of the TCP session in order to ensure that they are striving to meet their goals that we set each week. I often hear students at our weekly meetings explain how their parents are the ones who are waking them up each morning or driving them to school every day. We explain to these students how they need to take the responsibility upon themselves to make sure they attend school on time. If parents attend our sessions, they will also be reminded of the importance in making sure their child attends school on time and will hopefully change their routine at home to help their child succeed.

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