New program tackles student attendance

June 20, 2008 4:28:52 PM PDT
For some students, the most challenging part of school is showing up every day and on time. A new program called attendance court is designed to help these children and their families.

Eyewitness News visited attendance court at P.S. 27 in Red Hook. During the last school year, Jeremiah was absent 25 days. With attendance court in session this year, he has only missed 11 days. "I want to become a businessman and they influenced me to do that, to come to school every day and learn and not fool around," said Jeremiah.

"It helped him with his math. It helped him to reason with other children, like if they pick a fight with him," said his mother.

Jeremiah is one of 26 students in this pilot program, which aims to figure out what causes attendance problems and find solutions. The program involves bi-weekly meetings between the students, their parents and a justice system professional.

The parents sign a contract promising to cooperate, and then they get services tailored to their families, which may include tutoring, mentoring, after-school care, and parenting classes.

Attendance court was started by family court judges to help struggling families. The idea is to assist them early, so they'll never end up in the court system.

Sixteen students recently graduated from the program at Isaac Newton Middle School in East Harlem.

The Center for Courts and the Community is running the pilot funded by a state grant. "We've seen the attendance of all of our students improve," said Jackie Sherman of the Center for Courts and the Community. "The program is a voluntary program and I think it works because we provide the resources that families need."

Sarah Belcher Barnes is principal of P.S. 27.

"It's often working with parents to help them organize their lives and see the importance of school," she said. "When a student has strong attendance, it has a strong correlation to student success."

One student, Shanaisa, wrote a speech for her attendance court graduation.

"What I learned is being on time and attending every day is very important," said Shanaisa.

The sponsors hope to expand the program.

STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Art McFarland