By Joanna Choi, CFCC Student Fellow (2018-2019)
The parking lot was filled with parents kissing children goodbye, waving as they left. I walked through the bright halls of Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School, with children carrying colorful backpacks, strolling to the right and left of me. The walls were covered with various art projects, motivational slogans, and shiny trophies. They reflect the school’s commitment to student success, and I could feel the excitement in the air. I, too, was excited – it was Orientation day for the University of Baltimore (UB) School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ (CFCC) Truancy Court Program (TCP).
Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School is comprised of students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, with a total of 725 students enrolled for the 2018 – 2019 school year. The TCP operated at Mount Royal last year, and it was obvious that both students and staff were familiar with the program. Approximately twelve students are enrolled in the program this year, consisting mostly of middle school students. Some of the students recognized the TCP team and greeted us with a smile. Most students were shy, quietly filling out the necessary paperwork, as their eyes scanned across the room observing the TCP team in the classroom.
This year, the TCP team consists of a TCP Coordinator, a TCP Attorney, a TCP Mentor, and a volunteer TCP Judge, as well as a University of Baltimore (UB) School of Law student in CFCC’s Student Fellows Program and interns from the UB Criminal Justice Program. The TCP also has UB students who volunteer their time to tutor students in the program. When it finally came time for the UB volunteers to introduce ourselves, the students listened intently. Their curiosity was visible in their facial expressions, as they stared with wide eyes and nodded their heads. When it was the students’ turn to introduce themselves, they sheepishly shared their names. It was not until they began to share their thoughts about the careers they would like to pursue when they grow up that their voices grew louder. A wide range of careers was named, including professional athletes, doctors, scientists, and attorneys.
The current reality of the students, however, shows the wide gap between their present struggles and their aspirations. In explaining the TCP, the students were asked to share what obstacles prevent them from attending classes. Their responses reflected our law school classroom discussions regarding the current issues faced by Baltimore City public school students, including a lack of transportation, having to stay home to take care of brothers and/or sisters, and a lack of interest in their education. This discussion reminded me again of the TCP’s importance. This program does more than help students go to school. It provides an opportunity for students to become connected to the resources they need to pursue their dreams. The TCP team fills a gap by providing tutoring sessions, holding students accountable, and encouraging students to keep striving.