Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Princeton Times

November 18, 2011

Program designed to keep parents, students accountable for absenteeism

PRINCETON — Getting to the head of any class requires that students first attend class. That’s why the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Mercer County judicial system and the Mercer Board of Education recently joined forces to create a program to keep students on task and in school.

The program was officially born Nov. 10, when West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Robin Davis and local representatives signed an order creating a comprehensive plan designed to hold students and their parents accountable for staying in school.

Thursday, Chief Judge Omar Aboulhosn and probation officers Nola Ingram and Terri Williams helped PikeView High School students study up on the new rule.

There, Aboulhosn listed some of the many reasons that the students should stay in school. According to his report, more than 80 percent of the prison population consists of high school dropouts.

“The proof is in the pudding that the longer you stay in school, the less likely it is that you will go to prison,” Aboulhosn said.

Aboulhosn also tied the decline in the American graduation rate to chronic absenteeism from school. It’s impossible to keep up in classes and maintain a passing grade, when students don’t even make it to school.

Aboulhosn said, “We haven’t been serious enough about our kids staying and going to school.”

In addition to his presentation, Aboulhosn fielded questions from the students, most involving specific circumstances that would require a school absence. One student asked about the cost of the program.

Aboulhosn responded that the truancy program wouldn’t cost nearly as much as allowing the problem to grow.

“Right now, the Legislature is debating about building a new prison,” he said. “That will cost between $200 [million] and $300 million to build and $7 million a year to keep up, every year. If we can keep the prison population lower, then we will save that money.”

At the beginning of the program Nov. 10, Board of Education President Greg Prudich said, “Hopefully we’ll keep our students in class where they belong.”

During the introduction of Davis, Circuit Judge Derek Swope said, “We’re in the midst of a national crisis. This is truly an issue that we need to address. This is somebody that’s truly committed to the fight.”

After Davis began speaking she said, “It’s wonderful to be here in Mercer County. I grew up in Boone County, and I grew up with teachers in the family. So, I know how hard they work. Teachers’ jobs are made more difficult when they have to try to catch up a student that missed class.”

After Davis ended her speech. Aboulhosn stood up and went through the presentation that he had previously given the Board of Education.

The presentation used statistics like the amount of prisoners that were uneducated with no degree from high school being 80 percent of the prison population.

Also, the newest member of the Mercer County probation team, Nola Ingram, was introduced to the audience. Ingram will be working exclusively on the probations related to the truancy program.

As a part of the program, students that have more than 10 days absent will be faced with a court program and must have their teachers submit a form to the probation office with the program.

The form includes a place for teachers to rate the student in the areas of behavior, attitude, homework and attendance and to be able to express their concerns in any of those areas.

Also, the form has a place for the student’s GPA to be listed in the current period and previous period to see the progress that they have made and a place to evaluate the relationships with peers and adults.

— Contact Matt Christian at mchristian@ptonline.net

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