Attendance up, drug expulsions down in schools

More than 200 District 51 students improved their school attendance rates last year after interacting with the district’s new attendance advocates.

Six advocates were added in 2012-13 to help improve attendance among students who came to school less than 80 percent of the time.

The advocates — two each at Grand Junction and Central high schools and one each at Palisade and Fruita Monument high schools — talk to students and parents and try to help them work out a way to overcome whatever issue is keeping students from school.

Those might include transportation problems, bullying at school and environmental issues, such as a teen needing to work to support the family or being asked to baby-sit a younger sibling while a parent is at work.

During the 2012-13 school year, attendance advocates interacted with 475 students, mostly at the Grand Valley’s four main public high schools, at least three times each.

Seventy-five percent of seniors who visited with attendance advocates graduated on schedule, according to District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller.

Eighty-one percent of parents who talked to advocates worked to remove barriers to the student’s attendance.

Forty-eight percent of participating students improved their attendance and 36 percent improved their grade-point averages.

“Our goal had been 20 percent” for GPA growth, Haller said.

“We’re very excited about that.”

Haller said the district’s truancy director has seen a 75 percent decrease in referrals for students with a minor attendance problem, but some advocates struggle to get attendance above 80 percent for some students, in particular those who have below 20 percent attendance.

“We have some high school students who have essentially dropped out. When you go from nothing to one day a week, that is something,” she said.

Haller said advocates plan to focus on middle and high schools this year and eventually expand to elementary schools, although most attendance issues are in the upper grades.

Attendance advocates are paid through an Expelled and At-Risk Student Services grant from the state that will supply $233,507 this year and last year to the district, plus another $175,130 next year and $116,754 in the final year of the grant, 2015-16.

The grant also supports a substance abuse counseling program briefly piloted at Fruita Monument before being added last fall at Palisade, Grand Junction and Central as well.

The counseling program allows students who are at risk of suspension for a first-time drug offense to go through a screening process at Mind Springs Health, formerly Colorado West Regional Mental Health.

Last year, 112 students went through this screening process. Counselors found 38 of those students may have a substance abuse problem.

Those students decided to attend a 12-week drug counseling program at Mind Springs.

Another 69 students did not have a greater drug problem, according to counselors, and they opted to attend Saturday school instead of taking a regular suspension.

Five students refused either option and were suspended.

Haller said the district experienced an 11 percent reduction year-over-year in 2012-13 in second offenses for drug-related issues at school and drug-related expulsions decreased by 30 percent year-over-year.

Haller said one downfall, though, is that some students did not stick around for all 12 weeks of counseling, whether because of waning interest, transportation problems or other issues.

“Student and parent support is not what we wish it could be. We’re looking at incentives to help with that,” she said.



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