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Local History

Truant Students Get Help From Court

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/truantstud_892.mp3

Four weeks ago, Steven, a Reed Middle School student was making it to only half of his classes, and failing nearly all of them. Less than a month later, thanks to a new program at Springfield Public Schools, Steven's teachers have noticed a change.

The program is called Truancy Court, and it's a new trend sweeping American schools. Started by a family law judge in Kentucky, Truancy Court involves a real judge meeting weekly with a group of chronically absent students and their parents. The judge determines the root of the student's truancy problems, gives guidance for overcoming those problems, monitors the students' attendance and grades, and encourages progress. The program lasts for ten to twelve weeks.

After hearing about Truancy Courts from their colleagues in Kansas City, Springfield judges Mark Powell and Tom Mountjoy approached the school board with the idea of starting one in Springfield. Judge Powell now presides over Springfield's first Truancy Court, currently in its fourth week at Reed Middle School.

Truancy Court is held in the formal style of a real court of law.

Though Truancy Court is resembles a real court, there are some major differences. Judge Powell says one is that students and parents participate voluntarily in the program.

Another difference from a real court is that the judge has no real power to punish students who don't live up to their agreement. Judge Powell says Truancy Court's power lies in positive reinforcement.

By all accounts, the program is a success- all the students involved in Reed's Truancy Court have improved both their attendance and their grades. Karen Scott, Director of Student Support at Springfield Public Schools, says the new-found confidence students experience when accomplishing their goals may be Truancy Court's most lasting affect.

Officials at Springfield Public Schools hope to expand Truancy Courts to all middle schools, and perhaps even some elementary schools. But the program costs money to pay a social worker who acts as a family advocate between students, parents and the judge. Currently, the advocate position is funded by a grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

From Reed Middle School, I'm Jenny Fillmer, for KSMU news.