The Indianapolis Star

April 25, 2007


We can stem truancy with community effort

Gaylon Nettles, the state Department of Education's chief attendance officer, is right in noting that neither parents nor schools can stem truancy on their own. It will take a strong community effort to keep children on the path to improving their educational and economic destinies. Here are nine recommendations to help reduce the number of chronic truants:

What the state must do

Revise school attendance data: Accurate data and clear attendance policies are the first steps needed to stem truancy. An official truancy rate, along with a revised attendance rate that better reflects levels of chronic truancy and out-of-school suspensions, is a must.

Improve community mental health care: Given the strong connection between mental health and school achievement, it's crucial to improve access to mental health treatment to help students stay in school.

What parents must do

Emphasize the value of education: Turning around Indiana's culture of low educational expectations begins at home. Parents must constantly set the example that education is fundamental for success in life.

Know where your children are: It's tough for children to skip school if parents are checking on their whereabouts. Taking them to school on your way to work, checking their homework, even an unexpected visit to their classroom will help keep them in line.

What schools must do

Expand the variety of school curricula: Boredom with classroom learning is a sign that students aren't engaged in learning. A wider array of more challenging curriculum, including Advanced Placement courses, will help lure some students back to school and keep them there.

End the overuse of harsh school discipline: Administrators and teachers clearly have to maintain order in classrooms, but research indicates that out-of-school suspensions are used disproportionately in Indiana schools. Finding alternatives that keep students in school will improve their learning and their behavior in the long run.

Deal with bullying and school safety: Children shouldn't ever have to fear for their security within the confines of a school, especially when it comes to harassment from other students. Schools must figure out new ways to stem bullying and create an environment where students are safe and free of harm.

What the community must do

Mentor a child: As Heather MacGillivary of the National Center for School Engagement points out, relationships with caring adults are key to keeping children from straying down the path of truancy. Joining groups such as the Starfish Initiative and the Center for Leadership Development is among the ways adults can help support at-risk students.

Be a nosy neighbor: Why are those children hanging out in your neighborhood during the school day? Help out by checking with their parents or notifying school authorities.