My TOWN Coalition — Showing up matters

In being selected as a priority community for the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative (through the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery), Hoquiam has been targeted as a “community in need.” I admit that it was hard to wrap my head around this finding because we have a lot of great students and staff in the Hoquiam School District and positive things happening in the community as well. I now see this as an opportunity to make a positive change.

So, what exactly is “in need”? The measures that the state looked at for “need” include factors that relate to these three outcomes:

• Low grades in school

• Youth delinquency

• Youth mental health

In reviewing the data for Hoquiam students, My TOWN and Hoquiam High School (HHS) felt that one of the most tangible areas to begin to immediately focus on was truancy and school attendance — as it is a factor in all 3 of the outcomes listed above.

A state law, called the Becca Bill, requires children from age 8 to 17 to attend a public school, private school or a district-approved home school program. Truancy is defined as a deliberate action by a student to skip school. The absence is typically not known or approved of by the parent. State law requires the school district to file a truancy petition directly with the juvenile court if a student has five unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a school year.

While truancy is not the norm for students in Hoquiam, the daily attendance rate at HHS is approximately 90.41 percent. We felt that this was a perfect opportunity to bring awareness to and make an impact on something that often goes unnoticed, and that is chronic absenteeism.

Chronic absenteeism, as defined by Robert Balfanz, is “a student missing two or more days each month.” If a student were to miss two days a month over the course of a nine month school year, they would miss 18 days or 10 percent of the year.

Students who are chronically absent can fall behind academically. This can compound each year the student is chronically absent which can potentially affect skill development and cause a feeling of disconnect from school. Without support, these students are also at a higher risk for dropping out of school.

HHS and My TOWN have worked together to develop a strategy for addressing these attendance issues. HHS has begun implementation of a Truancy Support Board and My TOWN has adopted this strategy as a positive ground-level support.

The HHS Truancy Support Board consists of community members whose purpose is to create positive partnerships with students and their families. The board collaborates with the student and their family to help identify and address the barriers that cause a student to become chronically absent. These barriers can include issues such as: lack of healthcare; lack of transportation; family instability; academic struggles; or bullying to name a few.

After the Truancy Support Board identifies why the student is not attending or struggling to attend school, they connect them to appropriate community or school resources to help decrease or eliminate the impact of those barriers.

According to Scott Hyder, Assistant Principal at HHS, the implementation of the Truancy Support Board has been effective. Most students have improved their attendance which keeps them out of “truant” status and also out of the juvenile court system. Students have also reported feeling supported and are positive about their experience with the Board.

Another intervention HHS is implementing this year is identifying students with chronic absences who also have failing grades. These students meet with a mentor (administrator, guidance counselor or school psychologist) to more specifically address their needs. As a result, many of these students have decreased their failing grades by 26 percent from first semester to the recent grading period of the second semester. Along with better academic performance, attendance has also improved.

HHS is working hard to address attendance issues with the support of the community and parents. Studies have shown that when schools and communities work together, a change of culture can occur. The results we have seen in a short amount of time further emphasize the importance of regular school attendance.

My TOWN is all about making a difference in our community. Together we can Transform Our Wellness Now, and for our future.

Brock Maxfield is the principal at Hoquiam High School. He is the vice chair-elect of My TOWN coalition and is proud to be a life-long Grizzly.

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