By Rick Brewer

Calhoun, Gilmer, Roane and Jackson County Schools in danger of losing their Truancy Diversion Social Work Program.

Many families are not familiar with a relatively new program called the Truancy Diversion Social Work Program, but if you were to quiz students, faculty, school Attendance Directors or County School Superintendents about the program they are quick to inform you of the Truancy Diversion Social Work Programs worth and need in our schools.

What is Truancy Diversion you say? The Truancy Diversion Social Work Program is an early intervention program administered by the Alliance for Children, and funded through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. The program is designed to work with school-aged children and adolescents experiencing truancy.

The goal of the program is simply to improve school attendance. This can be accomplished by families allowing Truancy Diversion Social Workers to work with the student and family by helping to resolve issues that lead to truancy. Improving attendance at the earliest possible age helps students succeed throughout their academic and work careers.

Statistics show that patterns of truancy in third graders indicate a higher risk for those students dropping out of school. Long-range outcomes for these at -risk students also include a reduction in the number of youth entering the juvenile court system and a decrease in out-of-home placements

During the past year, the program served more than 5,700 students and families from 490 schools. During the 2000-2001 school year, a random sample of the data reported indicate these outcomes from the 49 West Virginia counties served: More than 85% improved their attendance after the completion of the TDSW intervention compared to attendance in a similar time period prior to intervention. More than 65% maintained or improved their grade point average after the completion of the TDSW intervention compared to grades in a similar time period prior to intervention.

Attendance Directors, Principals and School Superintendents across the state echo similar success stories when speaking about the Truancy Diversion Program. The Truancy Diversion Program has proven itself to be an affective tool against the war on truancy, however the popularity and success of this program may not be enough in itself to advert budget cuts that could totally dismantle this service to our schools and families.

Roane county Schools Superintendent Mr. Steve Goffreda when asked by Rick Brewer, Truancy Diversion Supervisor for Roane, Jackson, Calhoun and Gilmer counties, to explain the impact Truancy Diversion has had on his county responded by saying, " Most importantly the Truancy Diversion Program has helped Roane county schools compensate for the fact that we receive inadequate state funding for the employment of school social workers and people to work in the attendance department.

Steve Goffreda Roane Co. School Superintendent

Its very obvious that it's nearly impossible for one half time employee to handle the attendance for two thousand, six hundred students and the Truancy Diversion program has brought very very competent and committed people into the county to work as part of our team. There's no doubt in my mind that we need more of these kinds of things across the state because we need to work on the roots of what causes students to miss school rather than just options for punishing them."

When asked how his schools would be affected if Truancy Diversion Workers were not to return next year due to non-funding for this program Mr. Goffreda went on to say, "What we will be back to is a student to social worker ratio that amounts to approximately point five to over two thousand, six hundred students. So the affects are very very obvious, its going to severely curtail our ability to get into the homes working with families, its probably going to force more cases into the legal system and in the long run the students are going to lose if we lose this program."

Mr. Roger Miller is the Attendance Director for the Roane County Schools. Mr. Miller is a strong advocate of the Truancy Diversion Program. " I can't tell you how much I believe in this program, my fear is now what if these people (TD Staff} are not back? I am wondering what's going to happen to these kids? They are helping the kids, there's nobody else to pick it up. We don't have enough counselors and the counselors we have don't have enough time to intervene with the parents, so I don't know what we are going to do if they are gone. I am sure there are going to be kids who are going to suffer, kids who won't make it in school, they'll just further decline and not only is it going to affect their attendance but it is going to affect their learning, its going to affect this county."

Mr. Miller went on to say that the daily attendance rate average in the high school is around 90%. Thirty-one high school students have dropped out of school thus far this year. (Truancy Diversion does not service the high school but only kindergarten thru the eighth grade in Roane County.) "We got 80 to 100 kids out everyday, and it's been that way for awhile. It seems to be getting worse and worse so it just continues to decline. I think we would have the same problem at the elementary and middle school if it were not for our Truancy Diversion Workers. They are helping some of these kids who are at risk and having problems and helping them work thru those problems, their working with the parents, making home visits and sure taking a big burden off me, if it wasn't for them I would have to do all of it and I just cannot do it."

Mary Jo Ashley, Principal at the Spencer Primary Center, is also a strong advocate for the Truancy Diversion Program in Roane County. Ms. Ashley comments, "Rick Lane, our Truancy Worker here has made a huge difference in our ability to relate to families. Rick has been able to bridge that communication gap that often exists between parents, students and school staff. Educators across the state have been receiving trainings from Dr. Ruby Payne, that are helping us to better understand that there are underlying socioeconomic communication barriers that exist and often are at the root of misunderstandings between us and our families. Coming from a social work background, Rick has helped us to understand how we are perceived by families that we have lost our ability to communicate with due to their perception of us. He is able to help us to regain their trust and therefore make us all partners working towards a common goal.

TDSW Rick Lane and Principal Ashley

Ms. Ashley goes on to say that if the program was lost," we would be suffering in a variety of ways. We would be back to a deadlock with many of the families that we are making progress with and no longer have an oppositional type of relationship with. I think we are saving a lot of kids who were way beyond just the need for academics. "We would be devastated if we got the news that we did not have the program."

Calhoun County has had a Truancy Diversion Social Worker since Sept of 1999. Bryan Sterns, Attendance Director and Dean of Students for Calhoun County schools comments on the success of the Truancy Diversion Program in Calhoun. " My feelings at least initially without even relying on any data to back it up is that Truancy Diversion has been a highly successful program.

The impact that I think it has made in bridging the gap between my job as the Attendance Director and going the distance into the court room or into legal action with the students and parents, the go between there has been the Truancy Diversion Worker. It has had a real positive affect and on many of the cases which I would have normally followed thru with some type of legal action or complaint concerning attendance or truancy. I think it just says volumes we were able to resolve many or our attendance problems thru counseling and thru the Truancy Diversion Program rather than seeking a more punishment based route. So in those ways the Truancy Diversion Program in Calhoun County has made a huge impact upon our truancy or our attendance rate."

Jackson County Attendance Director Bryan Thomson and Gilmer County Attendance Director David Bishop applaud the Truancy Diversion Program. Mr. Bishop comments, " I really think that our involvement in the Truancy Diversion Program has had a positive affect on our daily attendance rate. I feel that the loss of this program would definitely have a detrimental affect on the attendance for students in the Gilmer County Schools and I would highly recommend the support to the continuance of this program." Mr. Thomson concurs that Jackson County, like Roane, Calhoun and Gilmer County has experienced success with the Truancy Diversion Program.

Attendance Director Bryan Thompson

Mr. Thomson comments, " I think it is important that we have the Truancy Diversion Program in the future. I think it is a successful program and I think each year we are going to become more successful in our efforts to help families. Truancy is a long-term problem, it did not start over night, and it is not going to be resolved in a month, its not going to be resolved in two months. Jackson County currently has four Truancy Diversion Social Workers. Roane County has three workers and Calhoun and Gilmer both have one worker.

The Truancy Diversion Social Work Program has clearly exceeded the expectations of the Alliance for Children and the schools and families they serve. It is essential to the future of the children and families this program serves that this program continues to exist. Every parents dream is to see their child succeed in life. Success is often preceded by a good education.

When our children reach adulthood it is the hope of every parent that their child reaps the rewards that only an education can give them, a good job, a home and security. Knowledge is power, but if our children are not in school to learn then there is no knowledge to be gained and without knowledge our children are left powerless to cope with the demands and stresses of adulthood. Perhaps Mr. Thomson said it best when he said, " I would hope that our Governor and I would hope that our House of Representative members would support the program and would support funding for the program in grades K-thru 12."

I agree with you Mr. Thomson, after all, are not our young people the hope of this nation? May our elected officials in their wisdom see fit to support the funding of this much needed and wanted Truancy Diversion Social Work Program.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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