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Posted September 17, 2013

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When It Comes to Truancy, Sometimes Complex Problems Have Simple Solutions

A phone call home by a second-grader's teacher made all the difference in his attendance habits.

Albuquerque Public Schools is piloting a modified case management approach to truancy intervention in 17 schools this year. The district's goal is to make a difference in the lives of students like "Marcus," a second grader who had nine unexcused absences when a health and wellness team met with him last year.

The family had multiple problems and a long track record of not following through on school recommendations. Marcus’ mother didn't show up for the meeting with the health and wellness team, and all efforts to refer the family to services had been unsuccessful. The school counselor had observed that Marcus had few friends, a very flat affect, and a history of frequent visits to the school nurse.

As a result, the APS Truancy Unit was preparing paperwork for a referral to juvenile probation in anticipation of Marcus' 10th unexcused absence.

Despite his excessive absences, Marcus' teacher said he was doing well in her class, was making friends, getting along with others and had gone that entire semester without asking to visit the school nurse. While she was concerned about his chronic absences, the teacher expressed a genuine affection for Marcus and said he seemed to like school.

The health and wellness team discussed the best plan for Marcus. They questioned if Marcus needed testing for behavioral and/or learning issues. Or was he behind academically simply because he had missed a lot of school? After some discussion, the conversation went back to the mother. After all, Marcus’s needs could not be determined and appropriate interventions decided without her input.

Someone suggested that the teacher call the mom to simply tell her how much she enjoyed being Marcus’s teacher. Though there had been calls home before, the team felt that a call from the teacher might have more impact.

The teacher agreed, and outreach by the teacher became part of the truancy intervention plan for Marcus. This simple act resulted in Marcus attending school more regularly, and when he did have to miss due to illness, his mother became more diligent about calling in his absences.

Sometimes complex problems do have simple solutions. The process of examining the reasons for absences and developing plans to intervene can be an effective approach to truancy prevention.

Every day in school counts in the education of our children.

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