DougCo Youth Initiative helps kids with truancy issues finish school

Natasha Lovato

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Natasha Lovato / NewsBreak Denver

(Douglas County, Colo.) The Douglas County Youth Initiative is a small but mighty team dedicated to helping kids across the county overcome truancy issues.

Students become truant if they miss school without an excused absence. The initiative steps in if students wind up in truancy court due to those absences.

A truancy case begins with a notice from the school to the truant student and the parent or legal guardian. The notice warns the student and parents that they will go to court if they fail to correct the student's attendance problem.

The Truancy Continuum is an initiative service that partners with the Douglas County School District and the courts to help connect students with resources to help them finish high school.

Marsha Alston, initiative youth services program manager, said that by the time a student goes to truancy court, there’s been so many warnings and notices that there usually is an underlying problem.

Alston explained that her process starts as a conversation. She meets with truant students and their families to form a connection. From there, Alston or her team members gauge the underlying reason for truancy, which could be bullying, mental health, physical inhibitors, or family problems like divorce.

Alston gave the example of a successful bond she made with one student from Highlands Ranch who found herself in truancy court. 

“She had all of seven credits, so she was behind,” Alston said. “When I met her, she wasn’t overly enthused to meet me, but her makeup was impeccable, so I talked to her about makeup, and we bonded. I found out her dad had been deported and with so much going on with the family, it was hard to think of school.”

Alston explained that through more visits, conversations, and access to the right resources and tutors, the student earned her GED.

“We are able to go into the homes of the families mitigating these changes and work to understand their stressors,” Alston said. “We also get an understanding of how the parents are involved. Sometimes they're just overwhelmed, and they're tired of all the calls and emails. So, we want to help them understand how to be effective with all the people involved in their life.” 

The initiative works with nonprofits, mental health providers, health providers, a peer tutoring program, and other services to help each truant student.

“Sometimes something gets off track, and it's an honor to figure out what those next steps are. Sometimes you need extra support, resources, and check-ins. It’s a unique situation, but I'm proud of Douglas County, and the municipalities involved, and of course the school district so we can do this unique work,” Alston said.

The team works with 12-16 truancy cases at a time. It is a group of three, including Alston, and she hopes to hire a fourth team member that will help secure the program even further.

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Lovato covers local news for Douglas County, Colo. Contact via email: natasha.lovato@newsbreak.com

Douglas County, CO
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