The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

January 9, 2013

Oak Hill High School: Community members sought to address truancy problem

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

OAK HILL — A new program aimed at addressing truancy at Oak Hill High School outside the judicial system is looking for community members to serve on a Truancy Board.

Retired teachers, youth ministers and pastors, coaches and other positive role models are ideal candidates for the board, say program organizers.

The Oak Hill Community Truancy Board is based on a model that was effectively implemented in Washington state. Instead of a discipline-oriented approach that lands kids in juvenile court, the “Spokane Model” is designed to be non-adversarial and focused on problem-solving.

Truant students and their parents receive a letter inviting them to attend a Truancy Board hearing, where the student is given a chance to explain the absences.

Board members then use “creative problem-solving” to come up with a solution. Students ultimately sign an agreement based on the conversation and an administrator follows up to ensure they are held accountable. Last year at Oak Hill High School, 603 of 981 students were considered habitual truants. There is a strong relationship between truancy and dropping out of school.

“The only plausible solution to these numbers is the development of a true community-wide response to this issue,” says Bill Sohonage, executive director of the Center of Hope in Mount Hope and one of the program’s lead volunteers.

He says the courtrooms and the Fayette County Schools attendance office are “impossibly numerically overburdened by the sheer volume of truancy cases.”

The Truancy Board will be composed of an administrator and a truancy coordinator from the school district, Oak Hill High School staff and community members.

Community members are included on the board in order to “help create an atmosphere of support to help keep truant students from falling through the cracks and dropping out of school,” say program organizers.

Ideally they will have the ability to volunteer approximately one to two days a month during school hours. Due to the board’s strict confidentiality, parents are not necessarily ideal board members.

“We believe that this problem is far too large for any one segment of our community to address alone, but we do have faith in the belief that together we can reverse this disturbing trend and change the lives of many of our most endangered students,” said Sohonage.

The program is funded by a 3-year $42,960 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

To be considered for participation in the Oak Hill Community Truancy Board, contact Sohonage at 724-570-4445 or Judy Lively, Fayette Schools attendance director, at 304-574-1176, ext. 2159.

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