UPDATE: 1/23/12 3:29 PM
A new school year and a new plan to knock out truancy.
"We are reaching out more to the families, providing them with help and assistance, and we're willing to work with them and to finding out what are some of the roadblocks and barriers to your child's attendance in school," Director of Attendance for Wood County Schools, Chris Rutherford says.
When kids aren't in school, statistics show they're more likely to be involved with drugs and crime, but it's not just the student's responsibility.
"This is a community issue and we as a community really need to take part in making sure that our kids go to school and attend regularly."
Last year, Wood County struggled so much with attendance, they asked for help from two West Virginia justices, who are truancy advocates.
"When the justices came down and they talked about incarceration rates and talked about over crowding in our regional jails and how important education was, I think this needed to be addressed, right now. It was an important impact to say to the community that it's important for children to go to school and an education is important."
Now, Wood County has a plan, and the district believes it's working.
"What we've seen so far in the county since the judges visits is that overall we've seen close to a 2 percent increase in our daily population, and what that translates into is about 270 students attending school daily, more regularly than in the past."
UPDATE: 11/15/11 5:27PM
Skipping class may seem like something that only happens on occasion, but West Virginia is facing a huge problem with truancy., and missing out on valuable education is proven to lead to bad behavior in the future.
"West Virginians need to either address the issue in preschool and kinder-garden and address the problem immediately or we will have to deal with as West Virginia tax payers spending millions of dollars to build jails and spending millions of dollars to house people in our jails and prisons in West Virginia. I vote for spending the money on education," Justice Robin Davis said.
It's not just jail time frequent truant students could face in the future. When students aren't in class, they're more likely to participate in drug use, and abuse.
"Statistics show the minimum 75 percent of the students that are truant are also involved in drugs," Justice Davis adds.
With staggering unexcused absence statistics across West Virginia and in Wood County, education advocates are speaking out, and hoping this problem will be fixed before it's too late.
Justice Davis is one of those advocates. "My hope is that in each county all of the stake holders get together. Those being the superintendent, the principals the teachers, probation officers, DHHR, the circuit judges, and develop a tailor made program for each county to work with the specific problems in that county to attack the problem of truancy."
Many schools are already attempting to stop the problem by making school more appealing to students.
"Incentives in programs, competition among classes to see how can get the best attendance records. Special programs for children that are struggling," explains Justice Davis.
Many schools have truancy officers that work specifically with unexcused absences, and statistics show the schools with officers are proven to decrease truancy among students by creating a more personal relationship with students families.
Truancy is one of the main causes of student drop out., but schools in the Mid-Ohio Valley are working hard to make sure attendance is a top priority.
"Truancy's a problem anywhere you go in the country and in particular in Wood County, we are starting to assess what our truancy's are and what they look like," says Wood County Director of Attendance and Home Services, Chris Rutherford.
According to West Virginia law, students are allowed up to 5 unexcused absences. After that, legal action could take place and families risk facing jail time and fines.
"Before the student meets those thresholds we send phone calls home, we send letters home and then we have this meeting. And what we do is that if we find there are problems in the home, we give the family a 60 day plan with services in place," Rutherford says.
One of the major causes of truancy can be attributed to the economy. In fact right now over 400 students in Wood County are considered homeless.
Rutherford says, "we're finding a lot of families that are struggling right now and we want to open lines of communication with those families to see what is happening and what the school system can do to assist those families. We have 8 workers in the school systems now that are student support specialists."
Schools like Jefferson Elementary that have truancy officers do tend to see increases in attendance.
"We've been able to have a positive interaction with them, and going to be able to explain, your child really needs to be in school because in order to learn they need to be there and it's helped us to have a positive message," Jefferson Elementary Principal, Christie Willis says.
And the best time to enforce education importance is when young minds are still growing.
Willis adds, "with the intervention really being focused at the elementary levels then as these children enter middle and high schools it will overall impact the county attendance positively."
Pleasants County Schools Superintendent, Michael Wells says he hopes the truancy meetings will help bring together multiple agencies to address the problems and be able to work together to come up with a solution.