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Learning a child’s name

In the turmoil following 9/11, a young girl, puzzled by the horrendous violence, asked her mother why it had occurred.

“They don’t know us,” her mother answered. “They think we’re bad people.”

To which her daughter replied: “Maybe if they knew our names?”

I forget where I read this, or where the child was from. But then, it doesn’t matter, does it? There are people all over this world who don’t know our names — and we don’t know theirs.

This, despite our ever-increasing closeness.

But people don’t have to be distant from each other to not know each other’s names. They can be neighbors.

In 1985, John Taylor, then principal of Thunder Bay Junior High School, did a truancy study. John wanted to know how many students were chronically truant and when that truancy began. He defined chronic truancy as 15 unexcused absences. John found that, in a student population of over 1,200, 77 young people fit that definition. He also found that, of those 77, 65 % became chronically truant in their first three years of school — kindergarten through second grade!

These kids weren’t off fishing. Their parents were neglecting to send them to school.

John Taylor shared that student list with Jack Carpenter, the Educational Service District superintendent, and with me, then the juvenile court judge. I asked court staff to research our records, and here’s what we found: 6o% of that 65% whose truancy had begun in their earliest school years eventually came through the doors of the juvenile court. Of that group, over 60% had to be placed out of their homes as a result of either delinquency or neglect.

These results were so persuasive, even a judge and a couple school superintendents could recognize their significance. Not only was truancy identified, but a host of other problems, as well, and it provided a key that opened the door to a community response. We had learned the names of young people who needed help whose names we had not known.

Resources were combined and, initially, one part-time person was hired who worked with only one Alpena school.

After about 10 years — well over two decades ago — this initiative was taken over by Northeast Michigan Community Services Agency and, since then, has shared in the evolution and expansion of its School Success Partnership Program.

Now, in 35 schools in 10 northeast Michigan school districts, that program serves over 600 children on a formal, continuing basis — over 2,000 informally. It has reduced chronic truancy by 98% and has had a measurable positive impact on young people’s education and behavior.

Dorothy Pintar, the program’s director, told me there is a waiting list of schools wanting to be included.

This long-serving, successful, collaborative effort involving schools, courts, and other community resources represents cost-effective teamwork that works. The manner of its funding is reflective of that partnership — 50% by the schools, 16% by NEMCSA, 5% from other sources and, since 2014, 29% by the State of Michigan.

The state funding came about after a University of Michigan study affirmed the Partnership’s effectiveness — its results are proven — one that has potential for expansion to other areas of the state. The program’s long-term, demonstrable success and the University of Michigan’s affirmation of that success was such that even the state was able to appreciate it.

Recently, however, our governor ended the state’s support. It was one of 147 line-item vetoes. No one knows why she did so. I can only assume she was not fully advised of the program’s value.

Please consider contacting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and asking her to take another look at the School Success Partnership. It’s a program that works for many kids — kids whose names you do not know.

Even those of us whose children are raised recognize the long-term value this program represents. We know we will pay a higher price later if these problems are not addressed effectively, early.

If you agree, please share your views with our Governor and with your state representatives.

Don’t forget to mention your name.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.

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