Truancy refers to the habit of students staying away from school without permission. There is a growing concern over the increasing number of truants, despite the millions of dollars invested to improve school attendance.
Both local and central governments are committed to reducing absenteeism in schools (Rosenheim, 2002). Truancy as a problem has also been largely linked to geographical location of schools. Schools falling in regions associated with social deprivation often record low attendance levels compared to those in affluent regions.
Local and central governments have developed both disciplinary and collaborative measures meant to address the problem of school absenteeism. Punitive measures developed involve the legal measures adopted by the government to support families with truants and at risk adolescents. Social workers play an important role in the success of the collaborative intervention approach.
This paper reports on a truancy intervention program I developed while working as a social worker in a high school. My task in the school was to intervene on the truanting behavior of three high school students identified to frequently cut classes. In my quest to intervene on my clients’ problems, I sought first to establish the root cause of the problem I was tasked to solve. In this quest, I worked closely with the teachers, the school principal and the parents of the three children.
The three students go to one of the schools in Baisley Boulevard, New York, established in 1971 as an educational options school. The school was established through the initiative of the community leaders, union representatives and members of the aviation industry. The school’s gender distribution stands at 45% female and 55% male.
The school’s racial composition comprises of blacks as the majority at 80%, followed by the Hispanics who are 10% and Asians at 5%, as per the school’s register in June 2012. Attendance at the school is marked both at the subject and class levels. At the third period, the class attendance is taken, where as subject attendance is taken by each subject teacher at the end of the lesson.
The school keeps an attendance record for each of the student and has a truancy policy, where students who skip class without a valid reason are given up to three warnings. Majority of teachers in the school are blacks, and the surrounding community comprises of low income people.
Poverty levels in the school’s catchment area play a major role on students’ attendance levels. I established that most of the parents struggle to sustain their children in the school, as most of them cannot afford fees. Most students do not have tutors as parents cannot afford to hire for them. The school occasionally organizes sensitization programs to educate parents on the need to ensure their children attend school regularly.
My clients were three high school students who were noted to have developed a habit of skipping classes. I took interest in intervening on the behavior to ensure the students attended classes regularly as required. I came up with an intervention program to help the students at the school level.
In the program, I scheduled meetings with the students, teachers and parents of the children; I met the children twice every week and once every week with the parents and teachers. The meeting with the students was meant for counseling, where as the meeting with the parents and teachers were to determine the impact of the intervention program. The three students were noted to cut classes at the same time, were classmates and belonged to the school’s football team.
After the first meeting with the students trying to find out the cause of skipping classes, I established that the three students did not have an interest in mathematics. The students were often truanting on mathematics because they had a negative attitude towards the subject and even the teacher.
The school environment provided several avenues for students skipping classes to hide. These included; halls that were not manned or closed during learning hours, toilets and overgrown flower gardens around the school. The school guards did not have a tight supervision program to ensure every student attended class when they should. This provided loopholes for the students to cut classes.
Besides, the teachers’ intervention program at the school level was only guiding and counseling, which was not effective. The school has an excellent working relationship with both the community and parents in reducing truancy among students. The school’s attendance office provides every parent, information of their child’s attendance, besides the record of academic performance.
The school’s current intervention program highly comprises of guiding and counseling. The aim of guiding and counseling is to make an individual realize the problem so that he or she can make an informed judgment. This often does not help to solve the problem of truancy among students. Truanting students require couching, close observation and use of punitive measures to realign their behavior the right way.
The Recommended intervention
Having established the cause of skipping classes, my task then was to draw out a plan that would help me solve the problem at hand. The first step was to change the attitude of the students towards mathematics. The three students had confessed that the subject was beyond their comprehension and that despite the effort of the teacher to make them like it, they remained indifferent. I first sought to know to know their career aspirations.
Two of the students said they would like to study engineering at their higher education levels, the third student was interested in medicine. These career lines formed the platform for my program with the students. As Schargel suggests, people are motivated to achieve in their careers if they are made to understand what they stand to gain from the career in future (Schargel, 2003).
The second step of the program was to help them understand the link that lied between their dream careers and mathematics at their current level of study. After my talk with the students, it became clear to them that they would not be able get to their careers without good passes in mathematics.
The next question they were asking was to know what they needed to do in order to develop their attitude towards the subject and improve their scores. I organized with the mathematics teachers in the school to develop a keen interest in the students with the aim of helping them in mathematics. I also sourced the best mathematics books for them from the school library together with careers books for each of them in line with their dream career.
I established that the school had weak deterrent measures to apprehend offending students. The schools disciplinary as well as the guiding and counseling departments were not effectively carrying out their duties. As a result of a weak disciplinary department, students were not afraid of breaking some of the school rules.
I recommended that the school’s disciplinary department be more active and come up with strict disciplinary actions against students who contravened the school’s rules and regulations. Research shows that teachers being close to students in schools are the first to detect unbecoming behavior among the students and are best placed to rehabilitated them (Dupper, 2002)
I also sought to share the problem with the parents to the three children to discuss with them the best way to alleviate the problem. It was a surprise that all the three parents were not aware that their children were truanting. They learnt of the issue when I called to see and share with them the problem their children were facing.
Each parent promised to take a keen interest in the performance of their children in the subject. They promised to engage the services of private tutors in mathematics and also play a role in monitoring their children’s performance in mathematics.
Evaluation of the Program
In the evaluation part of the program, I used the performance results in mathematics and observation of behavior change as tools of measurement. After the first three weeks of my stay in the school, I established that the program had yielded a positive impact on the students’ performance in mathematics.
Though the performance was not so impressive, it was much better than the previous performance. Their interest in the subject had also increased tremendously as I found out from the mathematics teacher. The students were handing in assignments and making frequent consultations with the teacher, a thing they never bothered to do before. From the class register, I also gathered that their attendance had risen from 30% to 95% on average, which was quite impressive.
In my needs assessment of the problem at I hand, I gathered that my clients had a problem with mathematics as well as the mathematics teacher. Besides, they had identified a career in football, which they decided to pursue at the expense of their academic goal. The school compound also provided hiding places for the students to hide as they skip classes. From the needs assessment, I was able to tailor my intervention program to the needs of my clients in my quest to seek lasting solutions to their problems.
The assessment was easier to evaluate based on the parameters I set out in the evaluation tools. The expected behavior change included; improved performance in mathematics, improved attendance and adhering to the rules and regulations of the school. The only part that was a challenge to evaluate was the participation of the parents in the program. This was because parents were involved in the program out of school making it difficult to monitor.
As regards the process analysis of the situation at hand, I first set the limits that program was meant to achieve. Being an intervention program, the objective was to eliminate the problem of truancy among the three students. Based on the outcome that the program realized in the first three weeks, I was convinced that if all effort is put in place and everybody committed to it, the program had the potential to realize good results.
Based on the comments of Reid (2000) I recommend a continuous monitoring and evaluation of the program throughout the learning periods for purposes of evaluation and innovation of better ideas (p. 23). The government should also invest more funds for hiring sufficient guards to supervise student attendance.
An effective truancy intervention program requires the support of all stakeholders in the education sector. This paper demonstrates the important role that parents and teachers should play in reducing truancy in schools. The government alone cannot manage to intervene on truancy, which is threatening to undermine the government’s objective to provide education to all.
Dupper, D. (2002). School Social Work: Skills and Intervention for Effective Practice. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Reid, K. (2000). Tackling Truancy in Schools: A Practical Manual for Primary and Secondary Schools. New York: Routledge
Rosenheim, M., K. (2002). A Century of Juvenile Justice. London: the University of Chicago Press.
Schargel, F., P. (2003). Drop Out Prevention Tools. New York: Eye on Education