Principal Linda Hill and "Berta Bucks"
|IS 49: Berta A. Dreyfus|
who is Linda Hill?
Evidently she has been in the news in the past, see below. Anyone with information can send updates to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
City declares war on truants
Published: Sunday, January 16, 2011, 8:04 AM Updated: Sunday, January 16, 2011, 8:10 AM
The city is making plans to put these chronic truants in their place -- specifically, in the classroom. And it's getting personal.
The mayor's office is wooing students who skip a month or more of school by taking a personal approach -- delving into their family lives and offering rewards for coming to class.
The so-called "truancy initiative" is focusing on PS 14 and Dreyfus Intermediate School, among 25 schools across the city with a high number of chronic absentees.
Examples include nagging parents to find out what's keeping children from getting to class, and rewarding those who come to school with a shopping spree at Old Navy.
"If you're not in school, you're never going to learn," said John Feinblatt, the criminal justice coordinator for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Truency rates and high chronic absenteeism rates are associated with very bad outcomes down the pike, whether it be juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, joblessness and so on."
As part of the plan, success mentors -- City Corps volunteers or students studying social work -- will be placed in each school to track 15 chronically absent students and make contact with each family.
There also will be numerous incentives, such as trips and freebies, for coming to school. City agencies like the Department of Homeless Services, the Administration for Children's Services and the Health Department also are part of the initiative.
According to the report, 41.3 percent of students were chronic absentees at PS 14, while 35.4 percent fit into that category at Dreyfus.
A GOOD START
Kim Nauer, one of the report's authors, called the mayor's initiative a good start, considering the financial constraints the city is facing.
"Knowing they have no money, yes, I'm extremely pleased," she said. "People are awake about it now."
Still, she said chronic absenteeism runs deep in the challenges of a surrounding community, and would take a lot of resources and time to delve into.
PS 14 and Dreyfus Intermediate, located just a block from one another, flank the Stapleton Houses, the largest public housing complex in the borough and a main feeder to both schools. PS 14 is on the state's list of persistently dangerous schools; Dreyfus was only removed recently. Both are listed under the state's list of Schools In Need of Improvement.
Both schools have a large population of minority children, with 81 percent of students at PS 14 eligible for free lunch and 71 percent eligible at Dreyfus.
Among the challenges the principals see are single parents, families with lower socioeconomic backgrounds and children with health problems.
Since September, PS 14 has been concentrating on 122 chronic absentees, while Dreyfus has been focusing on about 150. The school chancellor's regulations say each child is expected to have a 90 percent attendance rate, which both schools are aiming to maintain.
"There are a lot of variables involved with the families. A lot of things happen to them in their lives, and young children take on a lot of responsibilities," said PS 14 Principal Nancy Hargett. "We do whatever we can to find out what we can, whether it's because the children don't have the proper clothing to come out that day, or maybe they had to bring their siblings to school first."
She said some students come from two nearby shelters, and she has no clue how long they'll actually remain in her building. Last week alone, seven new children walked into her school.
The staff looks for patterns -- for instance, zeroing in on the large group of students who show up 30 minutes past the morning bell -- Ms. Hargett said. Latenesses are also calculated into the attendance rate.
"It's a very hard, challenging job ... it's not all roses for me," the principal said. "It's a very tough community, a very hard community. But I think, in the long run, for those children that are here -- and they're sweet little darlings -- any little bit will help."
PS 14 also has partnered with Dreyfus to hold parent summits, inviting families to talk about the importance of attendance and letting them know about city services that can help those who are struggling.
"I know our parents are overwhelmed with responsibilities, with many of them working two jobs," said Dreyfus principal Linda Hill. "It's a challenge. I understand it from both sides of the picture. If you have your job in jeopardy, and you have to be there, yet you have a sick younger kid, what do you do?"
She said the school also has a student-only summit called Dreyfus Everyday for Success, in which students meet regularly and participate in activities. A recent raffle granted some of the students a trip to see "In the Heights" on Broadway.
"It validates them. They are a member of an organization that cares," Ms. Hill said. "They absolutely feel good -- you can just see from the smiles. That's not a whole lot of data but it's something that absolutely can be recognized."
The summit complements existing efforts to promote attendance and good behavior. Among those efforts are the M&M Club, which stands for Mentors and Mentees and pairs adults with students, and Berta Bucks, in which students are rewarded with fake money to redeem for small prizes.
On a recent afternoon, several students in the truancy program spoke proudly of the improvements they've made in their attendance so far this year.
Mustafa Wright, an eighth-grader, missed 65 days of school last year after his family moved to Staten Island from the Bronx. Now, Ms. Hill said he's only missed three days so far, and is holding steady with a 96 percent attendance rate.
"I'm going to graduate this year, so I want to pass all my classes," the 14-year-old said.
Stephanie Colon, a seventh-grader who also moved to Staten Island a year ago -- and attended the same Bronx school as Mustafa -- said she missed 26 days of class last year because it was tough to focus. Since she's been coming every day so far this school year, she's found it's easier to keep up with schoolwork.
She said the school staff has been attentive, which has helped to keep her on track and resist temptations to cut class.
"They told me that no matter what, they want me to talk to them and that they would welcome me with open arms," the 13-year-old said. "Sometimes my friends say they're going to skip school and ask if I want to come. I just say no and then I walk away."
Getting to class has been especially tough for Justin Juarez, also in the seventh grade. The 13-year-old's grandmother, who played a strong role in raising him, recently died, and he has been suffering from depression.
Justin said he missed 22 days of school last year, but that he's managed to keep a 100 percent attendance rate so far this school year. Going to the Old Navy event -- during which he met his favorite baseball player, the Mets' Jose Reyes -- was a definite incentive.
"Some days I get up and I'm tired and I don't want to come to school, but I tell myself, 'you have to go,'" he said. "At the end of the day, I feel good."