News

School, police partner to fight truancy in East Palo Alto

Principal attributes decline in truancy calls to program

At East Palo Alto Academy, police officers work with the school to target truant students who are at risk of not graduating. Photo by Adam Pardee.

This summer, East Palo Alto Academy Principal Amika Guillaume went with a police officer to visit the home of a credit-deficient summer school student, who happened to live across from the public charter high school on Myrtle Street. Standing outside the student's house, Guillaume saw another student sprint away from campus, notice her principal and then run back into school.

Though this home visit was more eventful than usual, it was helpful to have support from police, Guillaume said. This partnership between school and police is the mission of the school's anti-truancy program, launched with the East Palo Alto Police Department in 2016.

East Palo Alto Academy and the East Palo Alto Police Department created the program in response to a truancy rate that currently hovers at 20.2 percent, according to the California Department of Education. A student is classified as truant if they miss 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse more than three times during the school year; chronic truancy is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school days in one school year.

Police officers now regularly visit East Palo Alto Academy to talk to truant students and meet with administrators to talk about students who are at risk of not graduating. They also conduct home visits if a student continues to miss school.

East Palo Alto Police Officer Aleyda Romero said the program was conceived as an opportunity to frame conversations about truancy around the impact on students' opportunities after high school rather than legal consequences.

"We try to get them to finish school on the right track," Romero said.

East Palo Alto Academy has a set process for dealing with a truant student before involving the police. The school will make an automated call to the student's home, instructing him or her to come to school. If the student continues to be absent, the school social worker will review the student's attendance record and contact the family for a meeting.

"We try to connect with someone who knows the family so the family understands that we are coming from a place of concern," Guillaume said.

If the student still continues to miss school, a police officer will visit the school to talk with the student or go to his or her home with school personnel.

"If the police are there, the student will open the door," Guillaume said.

The principal said she hears from "frustrated' parents who understand the importance of regular attendance but can't get their child to go to school. She can now offer police officers as support for these parents, if needed.

In the last two years, the program has helped 32 truant youth out of East Palo Alto Academy's approximately 330 students, who are primarily Latino, low-income and on track to be the first in their families to attend college. The need to address truancy doesn't go away during the summer months: seven out of 110 students enrolled in the high school's Summer Bridge program for rising ninth-graders required a home visit involving police.

The number of truancy calls the school has had to make has gone down in recent years, however. Guillaume attributed the decrease to the anti-truancy program creating greater understanding among students of the dangers of truancy.

Minerva Rebuelta, the mother of an East Palo Alto Academy junior, said she supports the program, particularly because of the effectiveness of law enforcement.

"It is good that police are involved," Rebuelta said. "The school needs to have enforcement. I know they think students are old enough but sometimes the kids are not focused enough."

Last August, the East Palo Alto City Council approved a $30,000 grant for the program to fund more frequent police visits at the high school -- every other week instead of once a month. Guillaume said the extra help from police officers prompted her to reach out to Menlo-Atherton High School, which is now part of the anti-truancy program.

For this new school year, Guillaume hopes to create a more methodical, streamlined process for dealing with truant students. The school's social worker planned to begin the year with home visits to get to know students and families and ensure that the police are only called if "the circumstances are grave or warrant it," she said.

Romero also expressed interest in having a school resource officer who would be dedicated to anti-truancy efforts.

Ultimately, the program is about partnering to support students, both school and police representatives said.

"It helps to be on the same team," Guillaume said.

Tara Madhav is a former Weekly intern.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Comments

22 people like this
Posted by where are the parents?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 1, 2018 at 7:11 pm

shouldn't this be a parents responsibility to make sure their kids go to school?


22 people like this
Posted by Frustrated in EPA
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2018 at 9:22 am

>>shouldn't this be a parents responsibility to make sure their kids go to school?

A lot of factors at play here. From a sociological perspective...the lack of parental encouragement, broken & chronically under-employed families, crime-related peer group pressures, drug & alcohol addictions (on the part of some parents) all have an impact on juvenile truancy rates.

Yes. Parents often serve as role models for their children & it takes a particularly strong individual with the right amount of outside encouragement to escape the ongoing dilemma of chronic poverty & under-education.

[Portion removed.]





3 people like this
Posted by Parents are trying to be responsible!
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 2, 2018 at 10:23 am

@where are the parents - The parents ARE being responsible - they are not calling the school to cover for and excuse their students absences. And both of my now college age students struggled at times while at Paly with not wanting to be in school.


19 people like this
Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 2, 2018 at 1:34 pm

How do these truant students spend their time when (or if) they are not in school?

Where we reside, any number of truant kids would be highly noticeable to our neighbors and other parents.

>>>The parents ARE being responsible - they are not calling the school to cover for and excuse their students absences.

Uh. While they may not be contacting the school to cover or excuse these absences, are they doing anything pro-actively to keep them in school?


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2018 at 2:06 pm

I remember seeing a documentary on television a year or so ago about truancy, particularly teen truancy. In many cases the parents work early in the day and the teen is dropped off at school too early for class so goes somewhere else instead of school. In one case, a single mother actually asked how she is expected to get her 14 year old almost 6' son out of bed for school when he doesn't want to go. When there is no father in the home to model good behavior then it becomes a lot more difficult.

Sometimes parents need a bit of help.


2 people like this
Posted by MAGA, feh evah
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 2, 2018 at 2:51 pm

"When there is no father in the home"

Oh, puh-leeeeze.

I know some GREAT kids that had two moms at home.

It's the quality of the parent(s) and their abilities to support a nurturing, efficient, disciplined environment. We can assist families in a Christian way with Living Wages, healthcare and other programs that help families grow.

Make America Great Agin


5 people like this
Posted by where are the parents?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 2, 2018 at 4:55 pm

well sorry to be blunt everyone but this is one of the great challenges of any society. To what extent do we as a civilized society help those in need versus providing benefits that people take advantage and lack responsibility and accountability.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Frustrated in EPA
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2018 at 5:09 pm

[Post removed.]






3 people like this
Posted by where are the parents?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 2, 2018 at 6:44 pm

well I knew that the editors would delete a portion of my earlier post. My message to editors of Palo Alto weekly don't expect my to spend a dime on you publication as you restrict free speech !! and you know it. sorry


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 2, 2018 at 6:55 pm

But if I really say it, the radio won't play it
Unless I lay it between the lines

(Mason/Dixon/Stookey)


45 people like this
Posted by Rewards Program Needed
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2018 at 3:57 pm

An incentive program to reduce truancy is needed. And to solve this problem requires a keen understanding of the mentalities involved at the root of the problem.

Disinterest in school is probably the #1 reason.

Many children from under-educated and impoverished families seem to share one thing in common...a love of fast food.

As a supplement to any existing school lunch programs, I suggest rewarding good attendance with gift certificates to McDonalds, Jack In the Box and any other fast-food outlets conveniently located in the area.


38 people like this
Posted by Ronald McDonald
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 4, 2018 at 1:25 pm

To have to be bribed with a Big Mac just to show up at school is clearly indicative of a simple mind.


30 people like this
Posted by Sleeping In
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2018 at 10:24 pm

^^^^^ A simple mind indeed. I'd rather have one of those double-decker sandwiches (with the special sauce)from the Village Cheese House in Town & Country Village.

I'm not getting up and going to school for a Jumbo Jack.


2 people like this
Posted by No Worries
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2018 at 9:27 am

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Meghan
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2018 at 5:55 pm

> I suggest rewarding good attendance with gift certificates to McDonalds, Jack In the Box and any other fast-food outlets conveniently located in the area.

Let me get this straight. Rewarding regular school attendance with a recipe for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure (due to the high sodium content), trans fat & bad cholesterol?

I can sort of see your point as a bag of carrot/celery sticks + a granola bar probably wouldn't cut it.



Like this comment
Posted by Prava
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2018 at 3:15 pm

If children do not want to attend school and are of a certain legal age, perhaps they should be put to work instead in order to learn a job skill.

Hamburgers are a poor way in which to create an interest in attending school.




4 people like this
Posted by Exceptions to the Rule
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 7, 2018 at 6:12 pm

"When there is no father in the home to model good behavior then it becomes a lot more difficult."

What about the fathers 'in the home' who model bad behavior (domestic violence, drug & alcohol addiction, chronic unemployment)?

Sometimes better if they're not around.


10 people like this
Posted by No Burgers for Truants
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 8, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Aren't children under a certain age required to attend school?

For chronic hooky, they should be referred to the Juvenile Court and either forced to return to school or detained in a juvenile facility where they can receive proper instruction.

Once they reach the legal age to drop out of school, they can play hooky for life.


2 people like this
Posted by Col. Rice (retired) USAF
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Send these slackers off to a military academy and teach them some discipline with life lessons they can apply later.

Acquiring an individual sense of responsibility and order will serve these youngsters far more than gourging oneself with hamburgers.


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