Truancy has been recognized and is now understood to be a major predictor of students ultimately dropping out from school and becoming a burden on both the community and the local economies. This is exemplified by the passage of legislation signed by Governor Deval Patrick on August 14, 2008, which established a committee to improve dropout prevention and reporting of graduation rates.
The StopWatch partners now converge on a scheduled meeting place where truants are known to frequent. Attendance officers as well as police and other advocates both public and private become scouts looking for students in an area they should not be during regular school hours. When students are observed, they are approached and questioned about their truancy. An intake report is complete for analysis and the truant’s name is referred to the school department as a referral for an in depth evaluation and response. These field meetings are referred to as “Truancy Watch”.
The objective of the Truancy Watches is to gain knowledge as to why students have begun to travel a path potentially leading to dropping out. At the same time, identifying truant students on the transit system is an effective crime prevention tool. There are many reasons for truancy, ranging from tardiness, to fearing gang violence, peer pressure, and failure to catch up after academically falling behind as reasons for not attending school. Interviews conducted by Truancy Watch partners have found that youth routinely mentioned fear of being bullied, domestic issues, childcare obligations, teen pregnancy, and disconnected teachers as the primary reason for “dropping out”. The most troubling reason revealed by the students was not prioritizing or understanding the value of a diploma.
Truancy Watch has proved to be an “ice breaker” and a meaningful tool used by members of StopWatch. When a student is encountered during school hours a conversation between the Truancy Watch member and the student becomes natural. There is little resistance by the student because the common topic of “skipping school” is unavoidable. The student should not be where he or she is during the mid morning hours; therefore conversation flows easily.
The efforts of the partners in StopWatch have realized success within the concept of inclusion and diversity. Together, adolescent advocates accomplish more as a team using all positive resource avenues available. Youths are more willing to respect adult authority if the leadership makes it clear they respect youth and expect the same in return. Adolescents who are encountered quickly detect a sincere, concerned attitude. Firm partner efforts combined with empathy, education, enforcement, and respect for youth open the gateway to mutual understanding.