WASHINGTON, D. C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine recently celebrated the success of students who participated in “I Belong Here,” an Office of the Attorney General (OAG) anti-truancy program piloted at Ward 7’s John Philip Sousa Middle School this school year. The “I Belong Here” program is an effort to reduce truancy and encourage student attendance at an early age through a year-long attendance competition between classrooms. Sousa Middle School was recently recognized as the school with the most improved attendance rates in the District, reducing its truancy rate by 75 percent over the previous year.
“Kids have a better shot at a successful future when they are in the classroom learning, which is why my office is dedicated to helping reduce truancy in the District,” said Attorney General Racine. “The ‘I Belong Here’ program has shown great success at encouraging kids to invest in their education, and we hope to expand this program to benefit more District students.”
Inspired by the success of a similar program in Prince George’s County, OAG piloted “I Belong Here” at Sousa Middle School because it had the highest truancy rate of all D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) middle schools in the 2016 – 2017 school year. Sousa’s truancy rate dramatically improved over the last year, dropping from 23.7 percent in the 2016-2017 school year to 5.9 percent to date this school year.
As part of the “I Belong Here” program, OAG staff serve as ambassadors for sixth and seventh-grade homerooms, leading lesson plans on topics such as responsibility and empathy. The program works to disrupt the negative behaviors associated with truancy rates and positively reinforce the idea that students belong in school. The incentives for the attendance competition are generously provided by OAG’s program partner, Howard University, who hosts a mid-year and end-of-year pep rally for students in the program.
Attorney General Racine spoke at the end-of-year pep rally on Friday, April 20. It included performances from Howard University cheerleaders, Greek organizations and other student groups. Sousa students also got an opportunity to tour the Howard campus. This exposure to Howard University is meant to show students what college is like and encourage them to invest in their education.
Other OAG Efforts to Reduce Truancy: ATTEND and TRIAGE
“I Belong Here” is one component of a larger effort by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to reduce truancy in the District, including diversion programs designed to address the root causes of truancy. Working closely with the D.C. Superior Court and other stakeholders, OAG recently launched a diversion program to better serve the needs of parents who are subject to prosecution for failing to send their children to school—the ATTEND (Abating Truancy Through Engagement and Negotiated Dialogue) Mediation Program. The Court’s Multi-Door Dispute Resolution program mediates cases between parents and the school in a neutral environment and links the parents through the Mayor’s Services Liaison Office (MSLO) to appropriate community-based services in lieu of prosecution.
Within its first 90 days of operation, ATTEND conducted 22 conferences, reaching agreements 100 percent of the time. The goal of the program is to help children and their families address the underlying issues causing the chronic absenteeism while minimizing the likelihood of repeat referrals and giving parents the opportunity to avoid a criminal record.
In addition, OAG collaborates with the District’s Department of Human Services in the TRIAGE (Truancy Reduction Initiative and Gateway to Empowerment) Diversion Program. TRIAGE employs a functional family therapist who is co-located at OAG to help review all cases of students who have been referred to our office for truancy prosecution. The therapist helps review truancy cases that are eligible for diversion and links families with services to help overcome the obstacles that are keeping the children from school. These behavioral health and community support services help youth and their families address root causes of truancy, while minimizing the likelihood of reoffending.