We work with a lot of teenagers at Youth Services who are either not attending school regularly or have completely dropped out. Reasons for truancy vary depending on the individual circumstances but there are some common themes I see over and over again. The youth below attended one of our programs and I believe his truancy story highlights some of the problems I commonly see:
Firsthand Account of Truancy
“I missed a lot of school even in elementary and my parents didn’t enroll me in my fourth and part of fifth grade year. Both of my parent’s drug habit had gotten bad and they just never enrolled me. I felt behind ever since then, except I felt good at reading. I felt like an outsider in elementary school and didn’t have many friends.
In seventh grade I got picked on a lot but at least I had two friends. I liked eighth grade better. This was a time I met lots of friends and became a juggalo. Juggalos were a family and gave me the support I never had before. They understood me and where I was coming from. At this time I was at Granite Park. I would only go to school to hook up with friends and leave. This is when I started smoking weed.
The only thing I remember the school doing was to put me in detention when I came to school late. I remember the school counselor but didn’t like her and felt she didn’t like me. Toward the end of eighth I moved again and went to Butler. I remember liking this school and felt like the teachers were nicer and the food was better. Then my dad went to jail. In ninth grade I moved in with my sister so I switched schools again. I started going to JFK and was jumped several times for being a juggalo. I hated this school and this is when I dropped out for good. I could no longer live with my sister and my mom was still in jail so I dropped out and was homeless for awhile.
I had never had authority in my life so when the school tried to make me do something I told them off. I think it would help if things were like they are in the movies and a teacher or a counselor would have cared about what was going on in my life and been more understanding instead of punishing me.
I feel like things are going to be harder for me because I dropped out. I wish I had stayed in school and listened to the people that told me to stick it out. If I had any advice for kids these days I would tell them to stay in school or they will really regret it like I do. A big reason I dropped out was because I only wanted to smoke weed but now that I am sober and clear headed I realize what a mistake it was.”
Common Reasons for Truancy:
- Trauma situations that are taking precedent in a childs life- Though it isn’t always the case I have seen a lot of trauma with kids that aren’t going to school. M.C.’s parents both had a drug problem and there was little stability. In families that are experiencing turmoil school often become less of a priority.
- Bullying- This one is big, especially in Jr. High. M.C. was shunned by the other kids in elementary school. When kids that don’t fit in, schools can be damaging to self esteem at a time when they are trying to figure out where they fit in society. I work with the peer court in Salt Lake and this is often at least part of the situation for many of the kids who stop going to school. I believe that this type of abuse can create psychological damage that is far reaching and much worse than previously believed. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can break my heart.
- Lack of positive connection- Looking for connection is a basic human need and it is something all kids are doing. I talked to M. C. a lot about his story and the one thing he said is he felt no one really cared about him or what he was going through at home. He joined the “juggalos” because this gave him in his own words “the family I never had.”
Often kids who stop going to school have peers that are also not going and they feel more of a sense of connection and belonging with these friends. This is where after school programs and prevention groups are important. The peer court assigns a mentor for kids involved in their program, which is an excellent idea. I have seen amazing things when kids have just one person that they feel genuinely cares about them. I believe the best truancy programs focus on helping youth re-establish a positive connection with the school and examine on an individual basis why school has become a place they don’t want to be.
What are ways that you can think of to help kids stay in school?