Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Truancy; not an old problem

It's a sad state of affairs that, in 2013, truancy is not a faded memory but rather an active problem. There are parents of young children (elementary school age children) who simply do not see it as a value to get their children up, dressed and to the bus in the morning. As a young mother, a single parent with no nearby help, including from the children's father, I got my four girls up, fed, dressed, and to the bus on time every day. Their homework was done, checked, and in their backpacks or book bags. I saw that as the primary responsibility of my adult life. No matter how stressful MY life was (and it was in those days), I knew for my own children to have any kind of futures I had to step up and make that happen for them. My own mother was always there for me while my father earned our living, working long hours and much overtime. They both valued education and saw it as a pathway to the future for me and my siblings. It was not MY responsibility at age 7 or 8 or 9 to get that handled. That job belonged to my parents, more specifically to my mother. And never was there a report card that came home unexamined by my parents in detail, with follow-up conversations with our teachers.

Fast forward to 2013 and my shock to discover there are students in our school district who have missed between 30 and 70 days of school already this year. I was shocked to hear too that there are parents who never look at the report cards of their children, never attend a parent-teacher conference. How can this be? What are these parents doing other than parenting?

I certainly understand that it often takes parents cobbling together several jobs to make ends meet. They are living on a thin string. Often one or the other works nights and both work days. It is hard to live under such stress, in such dire conditions. It is depressing, demoralizing. But the children of these hard-working parents deserve to be top priority, deserve the sacrifice of time and effort by their parents to engage with the process by which their children can break the cycle of poverty and stress in their own lives.

In our school district most children travel to school by bus. Unlike California where so many districts have opted OUT of transporting students, we still do. We provide breakfast and lunch for over 60% of our students, at a free or reduced cost. We put great effort into our curricula and our teachers work very diligently to meet academic needs with rigor and with increasing innovation of methods.

So, what's wrong? Why are so many students in our district and other districts staying home in epic numbers? They are not, in most cases, "ditchers" who go to school and skip out after getting off the bus. No. They never get there in the first place. They are captives in a culture of truancy imposed upon them by the very people who ought to be nurturing them.

As a school board member, I am disturbed and disheartened. I worry about these children. I am angry with their parents. No little girl ought to stay home from school and sit in her parents' apartment all day without playmates, without being part of a classroom of learners. What is WRONG with parents who cannot be bothered to get her up, dressed, and off to a bus that stops two houses away from their apartment?

The State of Maine is in the midst of a fresh look at how to help. I wait to see if help will come. In the meantime, I think it is time for someone to talk turkey about the problem here. It's way past time. This problem will not go away on its own.

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