03/14/04 — Truancy Diversion Project impresses judge

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Truancy Diversion Project impresses judge

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 14, 2004 2:11 AM

Truancy is an ongoing problem faced by school systems, and in recent years delinquency court filings have more than tripled. But since truancy court does not necessarily prevent the problem, alternative measures are being taken.

In Wayne County, judges are volunteering their time two mornings a week to work with young people before they become delinquents.

Judge Rose Williams, the first female judge to serve in the 8th Judicial District, which spans Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties, said it has been frustrating to be in the courtroom and see the same children over and over. She hopes the "Truancy Diversion Project" will prove an effective measure against it, she said during a luncheon Friday honoring social workers in Wayne County public schools.

She said the program was funded through a grant, with two schools chosen to launch the program. Each Wednesday morning court is held at Eastern Wayne Middle School from 7:30-8:30 a.m.; on Thursdays it is offered at School Street Elementary School.

For 10 weeks, a volunteer deputy and judge meet one-on-one with each child and a parent or guardian. Teachers also fill out a worksheet that tells about the child and his progress that week.

"We're trying to look at what goes on in the child's life that causes the problem," Ms. Williams said. "We talk about respect, responsibility, what's going on in the home."

So far, it seems to be working.

"Parents have noticed a change at home, a difference in attitude," she said.

Dan McPhail, principal at School Street, said it has been a very positive program.

"For us, it's not so much children who are not in school but are having problems," he said. "It's been very beneficial; the children love it.

"The hardest thing is to get and maintain that parent involvement." He said that social workers in the school system have been the backbone of it. He said the social workers have kept it going and monitored it.

Ms. Williams said statistics have been good at both schools where the program is being used. She said there have been some bumps in the road along the way but agreed that the social workers' compassion for the children has helped with its success.

School board member Thelma Smith said she wished the program could be offered at all of the county schools. Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for instruction, said the school system hopes the program will eventually be spread out to include other schools.

Board member Rick Pridgen also hailed the role played by social workers. "Some children, the only smiling face that they get is that one when they come to school," he said.

There are 12 social workers who serve in the 31 public schools: Donna Best, Kim Brogden, Claudia Brown, Etta Craigwell, Brenda Jackson, Sharon Jeanes, Dawn Knowles, Denise Meacham, Pam Sheffield, Dena Whitley, Leatrice Woodard, and Lynn Tyndall.