In-person programming revealed the critical and wide-ranging challenges facing families and children in Baltimore City.

After nearly 1.5 years of virtual programming, CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP) team was excited to return to Baltimore City schools for the Fall 2021 session. The TCP worked with 69 students and their families at five Baltimore City Public Schools: the Baltimore Design School (middle/high), Belair-Edison Middle School, Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School, Furley Elementary School and Mt. Royal Elementary/Middle School.

In December 2021, the Fall session wrapped up with graduation ceremonies at each school. In prior years, TCP graduation typically required students to demonstrate a 65% decrease in absences and/or tardies, compared with the two quarters prior to TCP participation. This year, because schools were virtual during the 2020–2021 school year, many schools were unable to provide comparative attendance data for our students, so the TCP team created new graduation metrics for each school. The new metrics considered improvements in attendance and grades as well as TCP participation and improvements in behavior.

Applying these metrics, 43 of the 69 students participating in TCP in Fall 2021 graduated from the program.

A Holistic Approach to Truancy Prevention

Resuming in-person programming, the TCP team immediately recognized that many of our families were struggling with immediate needs related to their physical and emotional well-being. While the TCP’s main goal is improving school attendance, we know that children cannot attend school if immediate needs are not met. Thus, the TCP made helping to support these immediate needs their first priority.

Below are a few examples of ways the TCP Team worked holistically and collaboratively to support students and families:

Helping a Student Get Back on Track … The mother of a 9th grader who had missed multiple days of school due to migraines suggested that her daughter might need glasses. The TCP Social Worker worked with the school social worker to secure a voucher for a free eye exam and pair of glasses for the student. Missed assignments due to her absences and tardies had left the student failing Biology and English. The TCP Coordinator and TCP Judge helped the student come up with a plan for turning in missed work. The TCP Coordinator and TCP Attorney also helped her identify multiple bus routes she could take home, so she could stay after school to attend coach classes for extra help. The TCP Judge coached the student on time-management skills and role-played how to ask teachers for help. By the end of the first quarter, this student had improved her grades. She also started working with a tutor for the second quarter. This student was very interested in finding a summer job, so the TCP Mentor helped her with the application process to obtain a Maryland State ID card.

 Providing Strategies to Deal with Trauma … Another 9th grader was added to the program in the third week of the Fall 2021 session. In a group session, CFCC’s Executive Director facilitated a workshop on trauma-informed strategies for youth who are feeling overwhelmed. Using techniques covered in the workshop, this student opened up to the TCP Social Worker, TCP Coordinator and TCP Judge about significant, recent losses in her family. She shared that she had lost two aunts, a maternal grandmother and a cousin over the last two weeks. The TCP Social Worker used open-ended questions to foster in-depth responses, and the TCP Coordinator followed up with questions that revealed the student had been writing in the small notebooks she received as incentives for hitting her weekly TCP goals to de-stress. The TCP Judge led the student in a regulatory breathing technique, and the student and TCP Team practiced that technique together at the table. After following the TCP Judge’s advice, this student noted that she felt calmer and more clear-headed.

Facilitating Access to Support Services … A 5th grader who had 36 absences and tardies in the prior two quarters and was failing Math and English Language Arts (ELA) on his first quarter progress report attended nearly every TCP session and worked diligently with a TCP math tutor during several sessions to bring up his grades. When he expressed an interest in the sea and travelling the world, the TCP Coordinator brought in books on those topics to encourage the student’s progress in reading comprehension. The TCP Attorney met with the student’s mother, who had questions about requesting special education services, as well as legal questions about formalizing the co-parenting arrangement with her son’s father. The TCP Attorney offered brief legal advice and referred the mother to Maryland Legal Aid’s website, as well as an upcoming “Lawyer in the Library” clinic in her neighborhood. The TCP Social Worker met with the student one-on-one and also spoke with his mother about the process for requesting a special education evaluation.

Workshops for Students & Families

In addition to weekly check-ins with students by the TCP Team, TCP also facilitates workshops to teach students and families how to advocate for themselves. In Fall 2021, The TCP Attorney facilitated workshops on Baltimore City’s Middle School Choice process at Furley Elementary and Franklin Square Elementary/Middle, helping families to know how to choose a school to set students up for success in middle school. The TCP Attorney conducted similar workshops on High School Choice at Belair-Edison Middle and Mt. Royal Elementary/Middle. All students were provided a copy of Baltimore City Public Schools Middle & High School Choice Guide, and TCP parents/caregivers were sent a follow-up e-mail with information on the virtual school choice fair and application instructions. The TCP Attorney and TCP Mentor also led a workshop at Baltimore Design School on employment rights and job searching.

Guest Speakers in Fall 2021

  • CFCC Program Specialist, Katrice Williams, visited Baltimore Design School and conducted an interactive resume-building workshop.
  • The University of Baltimore School of Law’s Director of Diversity Initiatives and Recruitment, Mark Bell, visited Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School and Belair-Edison Middle and discussed career aspirations and personal and professional ethics.
  • CFCC Executive Director, Rebecca Stahl, conducted workshops in four TCP schools on trauma-informed strategies and interventions for when youth are feeling overwhelmed by nervous system dysregulation.

Spring 2022 Begins

The TCP began its Spring 2022 Session with new cohorts of students at five schools—returning to all of the schools where the program operated in the fall except Belair-Edison Middle School. Instead of Belair-Edison Middle School, the TCP returns to the Academy of College and Career Exploration (middle/high) (ACCE) after a semester’s hiatus. The TCP operated at ACCE in 2019–2020 and 2020–2021. The Spring 2022 session began with orientations at each school in mid-January 2022, and will run for 10–14 weekly sessions, culminating with graduation ceremonies for students who successfully meet the program’s progress metrics.

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