Saturday, July 5, 2008

New truancy center addresses problems beyond academics

By NATALIA MIELCZAREK • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • July 5, 2008 Starting this school year, Metro students picked up by police for cutting classes will have an extra resource to help them stay in school. A new $500,000 attendance center will offer counselors on staff to assist them — and their families — in addressing problems that extend beyond academics, from poverty to addiction to neglect. The central goal of the program is to boost Metro's 70 percent graduation rate by catching kids before they leave the school system for good. "A lot of times we put the blame on schools, but students come to school already with a lot of problems," said Bob Ross, director of intake, parentage and family services at the Davidson County Juvenile Court. He has been involved in setting up the center. "We're trying to treat this in a more proactive, helping manner than in a punitive manner. Right now, when those (loitering) citations get sent to us, we set a court date, they pay $120 and go on. We'll try to establish more of a link among various agencies so we can work on a plan." The idea to create an attendance center came out of Mayor Karl Dean's dropout prevention initiative he launched last winter. The program will be housed in the former East Police Precinct off Trinity Lane in East Nashville. Students and their families will get on-site help from counselors and social workers from Metro police, the school district and juvenile court, and get referrals to agencies for further help. Loitering citations may be retired if families choose to get assistance, Ross said. Dean has faith in program Carol Nixon works with students who battle a variety of issues, from addictions to hunger. "School-based resources reach kids where they are," said Nixon, director of evaluation and grants for Students Taking A Right Stand, a program that helps students overcome obstacles to learning. "Of the kids who have substance abuse problems, nine out of 10 don't get the help they need. Having this centralized location, with people from different departments working together, you find out that it's not just one issue that contributes to the problem." The collaborative approach to addressing truancy is the strength of the program, Dean said. "I'm optimistic about the success of the program because when I first became mayor … one of the issues we were confronting is the way schools have been keeping or not keeping good records," he said. "Over the course of this past academic year, they really began to improve. We need to focus on truancy beginning in August and stick with it throughout the year. I think everybody's getting the message."

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