By Rohina Zavala, TCP Coordinator
During the Spring 2023 session, CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP) worked with 74 students and their families from the following Baltimore City Public Schools: Park Heights Academy (Elementary), Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School, Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School,Carver Vocational-Technical High School (Carver), and Digital Harbor High School (Digital Harbor).
At the three elementary and elementary/middle schools, students graduated if they decreased their unexcused absences and/or tardies by at least 65%. This Spring, 31 out of 39 students (80%) reached this graduation goal. Most notably, three siblings at Maree G. Farring E/M School decreased their unexcused absences by an average of 90% and unexcused tardies by an average of 80% after working with the TCP Team!
This year, the TCP team shifted its model in its two high schools to a one-year model, in an effort to ensure students were successfully promoted to the next grade and/or graduated with their high school diploma. To determine who “graduated” from the TCP, the TCP Coordinator looked at improvements in academics. Specifically, students needed to improve their grade in (at least) two core classes while enrolled in the TCP, as compared to the previous school year. The TCP team partnered with school contacts at Carver and Digital Harbor to identify a core group of students who would benefit from working with the TCP for the entire year. The TCP team also focused on recruiting more volunteer tutors, facilitating virtual tutoring sessions, and partnering with internal school partners (such as Concentric) to assist students with their academics.
While the original roster of 42 high school students decreased to 37 students because of students transferring to other schools, by the end of the school year – the remaining cohort of TCP high school students had a successful year. At Carver, 11 out of 14 TCP participants (79%) improved their grades in at least two core classes. At Digital Harbor, 20 out of 23 TCP participants (87%) reached the TCP graduation metric.
The TCP Team celebrated these accomplishments with TCP graduations at each of the five schools with food, graduation gifts, and a final restorative circle where students and staff were able to share their thoughts and feelings about how the program went.
What We Heard
TCP graduation parties are always a time where the entire team slows down and celebrates the many students’ accomplishments. This year was especially impactful after working with the same cohort of students at Carver for the entire year. The graduation party involved pizza, dessert, and plenty of graduation gifts for the students to select. As students filed in, one was pleasantly surprised to see her mother, aunt, baby cousin, and grandmother all in attendance and ready to celebrate her. Following a few words from volunteer TCP Judge Miriam Hutchins, each student was given the opportunity to say a few words to the room.
One after another, each student stood in front of their peers and spoke about their experiences in the TCP. One student was moved to tears as she spoke about the comradery she felt with the other students in the room – something she noted was missing from her prior years at the school. Another student thanked the TCP team for always providing a judgment-free zone where they were able to feel vulnerable and get the support they needed. One of the students thanked their fellow TCP participants, as well as the TCP team, for never giving up on him – and “heckling me to get to class every day and show up to TCP every week.”
Finally, certain family members in the room requested the opportunity to also share a few words. In a heartwarming speech, one student’s mother, aunt, and grandmother all echoed praises for every student and the TCP team. The student’s mother noted a significant shift in her child–one that marked a healthier relationship and kinder line of communication between the two of them.
Highlights and Challenges this Year
Highlight: TCP Seniors Making Plans
This school year TCP Team worked with 18 high school seniors, across two high schools. Thirteen of the 18 seniors are graduating with their high school diploma this year – comparable to the school graduation average of 72% at Digital Harbor. At the beginning of the school year, most of these seniors had believed they would not be able to walk during the spring graduation ceremonies with their peers. After conducting a review of their transcripts, the TCP team met with each senior individually to discuss what steps were needed to graduate from high school in the spring with their class. For the majority of the students, a timely graduation required them to pass every single course in which they were currently enrolled.
From these 13 graduates: seven are continuing on to four-year universities, two are working full-time while attending Baltimore City Community College, three are working full-time, and one is attending trade school. Of the five students not graduating, three plan on attending summer school (with personalized support from the TCP Mentor and Case Manager) and two plan on pursuing alternative GED programs, while working full-time to help support their families.
Highlight: Global Gardens Workshop
On Monday, April 24th the TCP students at Park Heights Academy participated in a workshop hosted by four Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly) High school students. The Poly students gave a presentation on the effects of climate change and what role students can play to live more sustainably. The workshop included an interactive activity, where students were provided a pot and herb seeds to start their own mini garden.
Challenge: Constant Violence Affecting Our Students & Their Families
Tragically, every year the TCP works with students who have been impacted by gun violence in Baltimore City. This year, nine students enrolled in the TCP transferred out-of-state or to another county in Maryland as a direct reaction to the violence in the city. After being grazed by a bullet and later targeted in another shooting, one TCP student’s father made the difficult decision to move his child to live with family in Virginia. The father informed the TCP team that he would “not let his son become another statistic in Baltimore City.” Another TCP student was the cousin of the high school student from Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School, who was shot and killed in the school parking lot during the very first week of school. The TCP team worked with school staff to ensure the student received trauma-informed care and support throughout the year. Despite a tumultuous year, this student is graduating this spring and plans on pursuing a cosmetology degree after the summer.
Highlighting TCP’s Holistic Approach
Despite wrapping up the official TCP sessions in May, the TCP team continued to work with TCP students to ensure they ended the school year strong.
At Carver, the TCP Coordinator worked with school staff to identify which students would need additional support to pass their classes. Without support, these students would be asked to attend summer school. The school guidance counselors identified six TCP students who were in an academic “gray” area. The TCP Coordinator passed this information along to the rest of the TCP Team, and the TCP Mentor and Case Manager visited the school to speak with the students in-person.
All six students met with the TCP Mentor and Case Manager. Three students immediately acknowledged they were aware they may need to attend summer school and had plans in place to ensure they would receive the necessary course credits to be promoted by the time they returned to school in the fall. The other three students are still working with the TCP team to identify the best next steps for their specific situations.
One student, hereafter referred to as Student A, believed he had to attend summer school because he was “failing all of his courses except for one.” Student A felt it was too late to avoid summer school and was ready to give up.
With that knowledge, the TCP Mentor and Case Manager decided to speak with each of Student A’s teachers to assess his standing in each class. Once each teacher gave their assessment of the student’s standing in their course, it became clear that Student A was only in danger of failing two courses – JROTC and Algebra II. Both teachers noted, however, that Student A would pass both classes if he passed the final exams.
Student A required more support in Algebra II – especially as it is a requirement to graduate. The TCP Mentor immediately started tutoring Student A during his advisory period and scheduled three additional virtual tutoring sessions to help Student A prepare for his Algebra II final. The TCP Mentor was also able to negotiate an extension and additional study materials for the exam, on behalf of Student A. The Algebra II teacher provided the study guide for the exam, grading parameters, and the score Student A needed to pass the course. The teacher also allowed Student A to take the exam two days later than scheduled, to allow Student A more time to prepare. This extension gave the TCP team more time to review the study guide and utilize several web-based math tutorials to better assist Student A’s studies.
To best address Student A’s trade course, JROTC, the TCP Case Manager spoke with the JROTC Sergeant to review the requirements for the final exam. Once that information was provided, Student A was given a study guide and worked on it with both the TCP Mentor and Case Manager. Because the exam took place during Student A’s first period, the TCP Case Manager facilitated transportation for Student A to school early that morning and met with the student to ensure he was ready and on time for his exam. Prior to walking into the school building, Student A proudly recited the poem by Nelson Mandela that he was required to memorize to the TCP Case Manager, excited to showcase his knowledge.
The TCP Team is happy to report that Student A passed all of his courses this year and will not need to attend summer school! The TCP Mentor and Case Manager will continue to tutor those students enrolled in summer school.