Photo: Judge Mitchell applauds senior Asia McBride for staying in school and helps her plan to dual enroll in college courses as she finishes her high school credits next year.
Recently, the director of OSI’s Education and Youth Development Program, Karen E. Webber attended a meeting of the Truancy Court Project (TCP), an OSI grantee operated by the University of Baltimore School of Law.
TCP is an absence prevention program that links caring adults with students who are chronically absent or are at risk of becoming chronically absent. In a TCP meeting, the student and the student’s parent(s) meet with a volunteer district or circuit court judge, school representatives, the TCP coordinator, the TCP mentor, the TCP social worker, and the TCP attorney (a University of Baltimore law student) to discuss barriers the student is experiencing that prevent him/her from coming to school regularly. The program, which is strictly voluntary on the part of students and their parents, is an early intervention model that targets students who have between five and thirty unexcused absences.
The in-school meetings are held weekly and the adults listen as the students discuss grades, attendance, tardiness and other issues that may have been raised at previous meetings.
“What struck me is how well the adults in the meeting knew the students and how comfortable the students seemed to be in a meeting with these caring adults,” said Webber. “In addition to being extremely attentive to Judge Mitchell’s remarks, the students were clearly delighted by her praise of the hard work they were doing to improve their attendance and achieve their goals.”
TCP is also a preventive program that aims to identify and address the root causes of truancy. In an effort to keep children in school, the program will link children and their families to social and other support services, too.
While there, Webber saw a ninth grader who entered the meeting with arms crossed and eyes averted, but after talking to Judge Mitchell and other members of the TCP team, left the meeting with a smile on her face. Another young man who had just received a perfect attendance record was using the meeting to get advice about how to seek employment for the summer months. Another young lady stopped by to let the team know that she had just accepted an offer to attend Frostburg University in the fall.
Said Judge Mitchell, “as TCP works with at-risk students, it proceeds collaboratively with its partners to serve and save these fragile yet valuable and intelligent youth. We communicate with the utmost sincerity our concern, support and love for them. Each student can look from one TCP partner to the next and, although seemingly critical, they leave weekly knowing they are worthy and capable of success.”
In the 2014-2015 school year, 75 percent of TCP participants graduated from the program, reducing unexcused absences by at least 65 percent as compared to their attendance in the ten-week marking period prior to program participation.
Maryland Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, led the effort in the U.S. Senate to secure the funding for the TCP.