Education feature: Program aims to curb truancy

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Steve North, programs coordinator for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, talks to a class at Clovis High School about going to and staying in school.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

“Who wants to drop out, become a drug addict and maybe murder someone in the next three or five years?” Steve North asked the class.

None of the 15 students raise their hands.

“It sounds like a ridiculous question, I know,” North said. “But no one plans for that to happen. You have to plan against things like that.”

North, programs director for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and Assistant District Attorney Ben Cross have visited classrooms across the Clovis system to encourage students to come to school and stay in school. North’s speech is part of the Abolish Chronic Truancy program the district attorney’s office implemented three years ago.

The push against truancy came from studies showing that students who miss school on a regular basis have a significantly increased chance of delinquent behavior that leads to adult criminal activities, North said.

The year the program began, no senior high school student achieved perfect attendance. The next year, five Roosevelt County seniors did.

“What we’re doing is challenging students to be in school each and every day, be on time and be ready to learn,” Cross said. “It will pay off big time in their future with better employment opportunities, and they are less likely to end up being prosecuted by our office.”

North presented the students with statistics such as students who graduate from high school earn on average a million dollars more over a lifetime than a student who doesn’t graduate from high school. Statistics also indicate seven out of 10 prisoners in any prison system in the U.S. did not graduate from high school.

“We talk to them about short-term and long-term incentives,” he said. “We know that when a student isn’t in class, they’re doing something they shouldn’t be. We also know statistically, students who do that get into a pattern. Life is just a lot tougher when you don’t graduate from high school.”

While North’s speech is motivational, he and Cross know that the prizes they are offering for perfect attendance help push the students.

Big Country Ford donated $10,000 toward a new car to one senior with perfect attendance. Another high school student will win an all-expenses paid trip to Dallas.

Students in junior high and above could with a Nintendo Wii gaming system. Elementary students will compete for bikes.

On the ‘Net

9thda.com/ACT.html