By John L. Horton
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“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come” (Victor Hugo, Writer-Poet-Statesman)
“No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” (Abraham Lincoln, Among Others)
So much is going on these days. NPS Superintendent Melinda Boone has just “resigned.” Her last day on the job is June 20, 2019. The NPS Board is in disarray: fighting among themselves, conducting unauthorized/secret meetings without the full Board’s knowledge and consent, trying to establish a charter school without authorization, arguing/disagreeing over the disbursing of school funds and policy implementation, and the list goes on…. Additionally, accreditation of schools is below state standards and not much overall improvement can be documented or expected, and truancy and dropouts among NPS are some of the highest in the state. As usual, minority (black males and disadvantaged others) are among those most severely affected by all this dysfunction and malfeasance.
In my experiences as a parent, truancy coordinator, juvenile probation officer, youth advocate and family counselor, I have gained insight and expertise in dealing with truancy and dropout issues. It should be understood that schools alone cannot eliminate truancy and dropouts. To do this, schools need the help of the “entire village.” Among other things, this can be achieved by providing intervention and prevention support systems that empower youth and their families.
Schools are not mutually exclusive from the environments and realities in which they service students. In general, educational policy and practical application must resolve the complexities of their urban environments, circumstances and populations. Accordingly, the focus needs to be on promoting the social mobility of all students. For this to happen, there needs to be an effective collaboration and cohesive partnership between community based organizations and the schools. For this to be(come) viable, we must make it an “idea whose time has come.”
Truancy and dropouts cause society to lose human and monetary capital in the short and long term. For those reasons alone, it is worthwhile to develop an effective strategy for dealing with them.
Truancy and dropout prevention are directly related to juvenile crime and teenage pregnancy. Other negatives are a less-educated work force, lower standards of living, higher cost of social services, loss of state and federal education money, and the like.
Truancy and dropout prevention are near and dear to my heart and life’s work. From September 1992 to August 1996, I was directly involved in this effort as the coordinator of Norfolk’s Truancy Action Program, working for the Department of Social Services in the Oakleaf Forest and Diggs Town communities. Since then, until now, I have remained involved in “public education” issues via part-time work, volunteer efforts, training workshops, and writing articles for this particular population. And, nothing has substantively changed for the disadvantaged and at risk communities that I have worked with and fought for over the years.
There were several lessons learned and valuable experiences gained from these many years of frontline duty. At this time, I would like to share some of my insights and observations:
1. Special attention must be given to those youth who are at greatest risk for dropping out of school and/or failing to get a good education. This is particularly true for those youth who come from at-risk and disadvantaged households. We need to address more clearly the concerns and needs of these particular students and their families. We need to understand these particular children have special needs —- beyond the school setting —- and that they suffer from a “loss of community.”
2. Many of the youth who are truants and dropouts also have special education or remedial needs. This is especially true when it comes to behavior and learning. Therefore, more study needs to be given to behavior (suspensions, expulsions, etc.) and learning (deficiencies, limitations, etc.).
3. These particular youth will usually need parenting skills for their parents, psychological testing, academic evaluation, holistic counseling within the school setting, self-esteem and motivational reinforcement, individual and familial empowerment, mentoring and tutoring, and the like.
Eventually, “root causes” and “real reasons” will need to be discussed and explored. Some topics for discussion could be parental responsibility, family stability, pre- and post-natal care, preschool accessibility, elementary school reinforcement, and the like.
In summary, viable solutions for dealing with our truancy problems and dropout prevention begin with parental involvement, early childhood development, regular school attendance, appropriate behavior, academic performance, teacher competence, administrative oversight, community support, and adequate financing, among other things.
Only honest dialogue, indefatigable effort, smart work and courageous leadership can resolve our truancy and dropout problems… and other vital education issues within Norfolk Public Schools and our local communities. Working collectively and collaboratively, we can accomplish this feat for our children and ourselves. Yes, we can do this! As Abraham Lincoln and so many others have said: “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”