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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Eldorado works to curb truancy through community involvement

  • Administrators at Eldorado High School are hoping to see improvements in their attendance rates this year, thanks to a state-funded grant that provides the school with the tools they need to curb chronic truancy and dropout rates.
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  • Administrators at Eldorado High School are hoping to see improvements in their attendance rates this year, thanks to a state-funded grant that provides the school with the tools they need to curb chronic truancy and dropout rates.
    Eldorado High School Principal Ryan Hobbs wrote the grant over the summer and was ecstatic to find out the school had been awarded the grant. The grant allowed the hiring of former Eldorado Elementary School Principal Steve Nelson as the new lead truancy interventionist at the high school and Kevin Dowdy as his assistant.
    "The main purpose of the grant is to create a community-based program in order to help kids get to school," Hobbs said. "The goal of this is to increase attendance rates."
    Hobbs said the school has had ongoing problems with truancy and low graduation rates, so when he was hired as principal one of his main goals was to improve the school in those areas. After doing some research, he discovered the Truants' Alternative and Optional Education Program, which is a grant administered by the Illinois State Board of Education. The grant will fund the program for three years, providing the school shows what they have done to decrease truancy and that it's had a positive affect on attendance rates.
    The unusual aspect of the program is how it encourages the community to get involved.
    "Nobody in society benefits from kids not graduating," Hobbs said.
    With that in mind, Nelson and Dowdy have begun the process of forming a community team working together to keep students in school. The team includes community members "all the way from the legal system to healthcare providers" according to Nelson.
    Administrators are encouraging community members to support the program by reporting suspected truants and visibly valuing education. Parents are also asked to call the school by 9 a.m. if their child is going to be absent that day for a valid reason, like major health issues or a family emergency.
    "We try to use all the resources the community has," Nelson said, referencing the health department, family resource developers, addiction specialists and probation officers, among others.
    Once a student is labeled as a chronic truant, truant, dropout or potential dropout, they are referred to the program and receive an individualized service plan to help them graduate on time.
    "Instead of threatening them with legal action we're actually trying to help them," Nelson said.
    Nelson and Dowdy begin the process by meeting with students' parents or guardians to get them involved and to assess home life to identify what might be causing the student to miss so many school days.
    "We're trying to make the family accountable for what's going on," Dowdy said.
    Hobbs said he thinks lack of parental support is one of the main causes of truancy and students who drop out of school.
    Page 2 of 2 - If Nelson and Dowdy discover that a specific problem like homelessness or drug addiction is causing the student to miss school, the student is directed to community agencies that can help them.
    "They realize somebody cares," Nelson said. "We're here to help."
    The program also helps students graduate on time by allowing them to use school facilities after regular school hours to recover lost credits. In addition, students in the program can utilize the mentoring, tutoring and counseling provided at the school.
    "You've got to be firm, but encouraging at the same time," Dowdy said.
    For further information or to report a suspected truant, Nelson and Dowdy can be reached at (618) 273-2881.

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