Our View: Carrot and stick can help fight truancy

There's a carrot and a stick in the approach to fighting truancy at Willow Creek Middle School.

The multiagency pilot program, which started this school year under a coordinated effort with Rochester Public Schools, the Olmsted County Attorney's office and various social service agencies, can be considered the stick. It's prodding students to stay in school by highlighting the penalties for skipping too much class.

The state defines truancy as having seven or more unexcused absences in a school year.

In the past, the Olmsted County Attorney's office didn't become involved until students had many more missed days — in some cases as many as 60 or more — and it was often too late in the year to expect the stick to be much of an incentive.

Now, students and parents are being notified earlier of consequences, which include one-on-one meetings and potential court action, if truancy concerns aren't addressed.


Preliminary results, show the effort is working. School officials say the pilot programs at Mayo High School and Willow Creek have produced a steep decline in chronically absent and truant students.

Last year, Mayo High School officials reported 132 ninth-graders were considered truant, along with 128 10th-graders and 160 11th-graders. Similar numbers were seen at Willow Creek. Since the new truancy program started, Mayo has sent letters to 44 students warning of consequences of missed schools days, convincing 23 to improve their attendance. The remainder were referred to one-on-one meetings, and in the end, only seven students have faced court action.

It shows the stick is working.

But Willow Creek students who may be tempted to skip school also are seeing a carrot of sorts.

The United Way Community Gang Initiative has been providing extra funding for the Sports Mentorship Academy and the Girl Scout's ConnectZ programs run during lunch hours at the school. According to United Way community impact specialist Deneene Graham, the programs give students a reason to want to be involved in school. "If students feel connected to school, connected to adults who care about them, then their reaction and their association on a whole with their learning and academics really moves in a positive direction," she said, noting it all aims to stem the negative impact of truancy.

"We know the whole domino effect," she added. "If we can decrease truancy, then they are in school more, so they learn more. And if they learn more, that increases the likelihood that they will graduate on time and be successful."

It is estimated high school graduates earn nearly $1 million more than dropouts over their lifetimes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average income for a dropout is $20,241 while a high school graduate averages $36,424 a year.

That also should serve as a carrot for educators and other community leaders to continue to grow the truancy program. The outcome will have an effect well into the future by encouraging students to become productive citizens.


Much of the focus on whether the program is successful has been focused on numbers, and the preliminary numbers seem to show the effort is working.

Hopefully, the stick and carrot can continue being used to encourage our students to continue down the right path.

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