September 21, 2014

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Two Lorain Schools employees work to reduce truancy

Markell Young, safety and compliance officer at Johnnie Wilson Middle School in Lorain, says he purchases alarm clocks to help students wake up for school in an effort to crack down on truancy. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Markell Young, safety and compliance officer at Johnnie Wilson Middle School in Lorain, says he purchases alarm clocks to help students wake up for school in an effort to crack down on truancy. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

LORAIN — The 13-year-old seventh-grader had 15 absences since August when Markell Young, a Lorain Schools safety and compliance officer, visited her home March 4.

The girl’s grandmother, who said she has custody of the girl and her three sisters, said the girl’s mother is an addict and her father is in jail.

“She’s using every excuse she can,” the grandmother told Young. “I don’t know what to do with her.”

Young, whose mother had him when he was 17 and was raised by his grandmother, was sympathetic and encouraging. He vowed to get the girl counseling and mentoring at her middle school.

“She’s going to need all the support she can get,” he told the grandmother. “The things that have happened in her past, you can’t let that be her crutch either. Because, ultimately, the world is not going to care when she’s 25 and looking for a job.”

Young is on the front lines of the school district’s battle to reduce truancy and improve attendance. The district significantly increased truancy enforcement beginning in August. School leaders say it’s working.

Young does home visits in an effort to crack down on truancy and make parents aware their child is missing school.

Young does home visits in an effort to crack down on truancy and make parents aware their child is missing school.

Lorain has failed to meet the 93 percent Ohio attendance minimum the last four years, but attendance was 94 percent in the first semester this year compared to nearly 93 percent in the first semester last year. Annual attendance was 90 percent in the 2012-13 school year. Improving attendance is part of overall academic improvement efforts in response to last year’s state takeover of academics by a state Academic Distress Commission.

In previous years, reducing truancy was just part of the job of Young and fellow safety and compliance offer Micah Gibbs. They now spend nearly all of their time on increasing district attendance.

Young said he averages between 50 and 100 visits per week to the homes of children with high absences. In previous years, it was four or five.

Four absences in a semester usually trigger a visit. However, if a student who had good attendance shows a disturbing pattern of absences, Young said it could be less than four.

Some visits are a few minutes. Others may take as long as 45 minutes.

Some are resolved as simply as providing the child with an alarm clock. In one case, a mother whose husband had been fatally shot in a street crime was afraid to have her son walk a few blocks to an elementary school in the morning because it was dark. While the boy wasn’t eligible for busing, Young made arrangements to provide him busing due to the boy’s unusual circumstances.

Young has visited elementary and high school students’ homes, but primarily visits middle school students’ homes. Gibbs visits the homes of alternative and high school students.

Young works out of Gen. Johnnie Wilson Middle School and Longfellow Middle School. He said reducing truancy at the middle school level is crucial to boosting graduation rates.

He said most elementary school students want to attend school, and are more likely to develop bad attendance habits in middle school. By high school, it’s often too late to change them. Attendance has been lowest at the Credit Recovery Academy, an alternative school for struggling high school students.

At Johnnie Wilson, Principal Michael Scott said the goal is 95 percent attendance. The school was at 96 percent in the first semester compared to 94.5 percent in the first semester in 2012. Scott said improving attendance is a collaborative achievement among parents, staff and students.

“Now that we’re getting them here, we’ve got to really provide them with that quality education to keep them coming,” he said. “Once they come in, they’re excited about learning and we make learning irresistible. If we make the learning irresistible, kids will come.”

Besides home visits, the schools try to give students incentives on days when attendance is traditionally low, such as on a Friday before a Monday holiday. Casual dress days, sports jersey dress days or pizza parties are among the incentives. Students with perfect, or near perfect, attendance get certificates and some students and their parents get free tickets to Cleveland Cavaliers basketball games.

Young said when he sees a pattern of absences, he speaks with students and parents. Young, a 41-year-old father of two young children and a daughter and stepdaughter in college, said he makes it personal.

He tells students and their parents that he has only had two absences since Lorain Schools hired him in 2009. One was for a funeral and one was to take one of his children to the hospital. He also shows parents his children’s perfect attendance certificates.

“They want real people and real things,” Young said. “They want to know that I also have to get up and get a kid up for school.”

Young said he realizes that being raised by his grandmother, he could have become a statistic in what critics call the “schools to prison pipeline.” Young, who has a criminal justice degree, saw it firsthand as a guard for six years at the Lorain Correctional Institution, where some inmates were as young as 16 or 17. He said many inmates said their problems began when they started skipping school.

“When you hear those stories, over and over and over again, you start seeing a pattern,” Young said. “It drives me.”

Young said he tries not to be confrontational with parents, but doesn’t hesitate to tell them if he believes they’re not doing a good job. Young said some don’t care, but many are trying.

“They need to know somebody’s there and somebody cares,” he said. “Somebody’s willing to come to their house and shake their hand and ask them what they can do to help.”

Young recalls one frustrated father of a middle school student calling him in the morning when his son refused to go to school. Young said he drove to the boy’s house, ordered him to get up and drove him to school after buying him breakfast along the way.

Young said he told the boy he didn’t have to get him, but was there because he cared. He said the boy’s attendance has improved.

Another boy who previously had good attendance began skipping school after dating a girl with whom he smoked marijuana. Young said he was able to get the boy back in school and back on the wrestling team, and his attendance has improved.

Young said there’s a story behind every truant child. Young said his mission is deeper than just improving attendance, particularly with troubled children like the girl whose house he visited March 4.

“Times like that are when you have the opportunity to save somebody’s life,” he said. “If we do nothing, what happens in five years?”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

Lorain Attendance

Lorain Schools leaders are putting a greater emphasis on truancy prevention this year as they seek to meet or exceed the state goal of 93 percent or more.

  • 2009-10: 90.1 percent
  • 2010-11: 91,2 percent
  • 2011-12: 91 percent
  • 2012-13: 90.5 percent

SOURCE: Lorain Schools

 


  • Sis Delish

    Perhaps putting a gold chain on the Alarm Clocks purchased so the lil’ ones can emulate Flava Flav would at least provide the incentive to be correctly attired when forced into the educational process… but, then again, someone will have provide the training on how Keep the Clocks running. Good luck to these two school employees.

    P.S. What ever happened to the types of Truant Officers seen in The Little Rascals episodes?

    • LugNutt

      If your name is Sis Delish, you probably shouldn’t give advice to anyone about anything! Sounds like a budget stripper..just sayin! Flavor Flav? Lil Rascals? How ancient are you?

    • keepsmewonderin

      Like Vince Glorioso, Lorain’s truant officer throughout my childhood. But you have to remember, if we were caught skipping, our parents could legally beat the crap out of us, with positive results for the most part. I don’t mean broken and bruised, but the big black belt across the behind had magical powers.

  • Americaschild

    Sad that parents are not in charge of their own children and Lorain has to PAY an employee to hunt down students. It’s not the job of the school to be parents! Kid not in school he fails. Parent were failures all along; lazy, worthless failures and that’s what their kids become.

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    Granny did a sh!tty job of raising her daughter, so who thinks she’s going to do any better with her granddaughter?

    Sometimes we just need to smack people upside their heads, even if it’s only to make us feel better.

  • zdubb78

    Re-Aligning the schools will help this problem how???? Kids go to school by neighborhood now and still cannot get to school. What heppens when the school is on the other side of town! Disturbing Idea that is being ushed through.

  • Brian_Reinhardt

    Great story…

    Some of you have a real chip on your shoulder and forget that this is Lorain, Ohio in 2014, not some storybook suburb back in the 50′s.

    Markell Young was ALREADY a school employee so what’s the problem there. He assumed an additional duty.

    Those of you who accuse the schools of trying to be “parents” are way off base. Using that analogy, cops could be some of YOUR parents. All that’s being done here is problem solving. The problem is a kid getting to school and it’s being addressed and apparently in an effective manner.

    Markell’s visit is kind of like a “smack to the head” of the ADULTS responsible for getting the kids to school. Along with his visit is a reminder that the courts and Children’s Services can get involved if the problem is not corrected.

    Insofar as the realignment is concerned, many children will be bused to school which makes it EASIER for parents to get them there. Hence the reason for the realignment.

    I’m the LOUDEST critic of Lorain’s schools but this is a program that is working and should be applauded.

    • Sis Delish

      But, is it the role of Government/Schools to purchase Alarm Clocks?

      • Brian_Reinhardt

        And I suppose you’ve NEVER gotten a tax refund due to say mortgage interest, college tuition, business expenses or from ANY OTHER DEDUCTION you took right?

        The alarm clock is both a tool to wake the kid up and a symbol that someone gave a damm* about them. It may be just the thing to motivate a child.

        • Sis Delish

          IF I received any of those items’ I didn’t have a Gov’t Representative do I for me, I figured it out all by myself. See the difference?

          • Brian_Reinhardt

            A Gov’t rep printed that refund check and a Gov’t rep had a hand in providing those “loopholes”.

          • Sis Delish

            Yes, and I didn’t build the road all by myself, either.. I get it, you are a huge supporter of the current occupant of The White House. Those “loopholes” you mention, can you define them? And, as I am not a Type-A Personality, and have a difficult time in the morning, where can I get my Obama Alarm Clock? Does the guy who visits provide turn-down services at night, too? Lil’ chocolates on my pillow, please? Real funny about this whole story, most kids have Smart Phones. Smart Phones get their name by doing lots of things. One of those things is a Clock Feature: Timer, Stop Watch, and ALARM CLOCK. Now, I’m certain that even those Obama Phones are equipped with these basic features. What Makes the Alarm Clock the gentleman is holding in his photo-op superior to the devices most probably already available to the young school-skippers? Is it remote controlled by a drone which circles above the Target Truant’s residence? I’m curious.

        • golfingirl

          Should have just given him a Rolex. That would really show him someone gave a “damn” about him.

          Just kidding.

  • golfingirl

    Elyria Fire Department could use this guy to check on all the absenteeism of their firefighters.

    Maybe he can moonlight a second job.

    • stillsleepyeyes

      LOL to funny…………………

  • oldruss

    If these kids are chronic truants or habitual truants, they should have already been turned over to the juvenile court. In another article, it was reported that NO STUDENTS were referred to the juvenile court by the LCSD. That speaks volumes.