New ECISD Truancy Program Builds Success

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - They're weren't showing up for class, but they were falling behind and getting in trouble with the law. Truancy cases are swamping Ector County courtrooms even causing some of the schools to fall into the "academically unacceptable" category. But a brand new program is setting out to change that. It's called "Bridge to Success."

It's a chance for dozens of junior high and high school students to get one-on-one attention and encourage them to finish school. These are students who only showed up to class about half of the entire school year. We sat down with the two principals who make this program work to find out what difference it's making.

"We're academically unacceptable because of completion rates," Permian High School Principal, Roy Garcia, said. "There's a significant tie-in with attendance, truancy, and drop outs. They're failing, kids get behind on grades and they finally drop out."

So for the first time this school year, a Municipal Court Judge, school principals, student assistant services, and district officials decided to come together to make a change.

"A lot of these kids who are truant don't have a reason to come to school, so let's give them a reason," Bowie Jr. High School Principal, Denise Shetter, said.

"Bridge to Success" is a court-ordered program lasting a minimum of 6 weeks. They start by going to core classes for four hours each day. The students in the program are paired with a teacher who makes sure they're at school and they get one-on-one help with each assignment.  If they don't show up they get a phone call and the district police get involved.

"They go out and find them and bring them in, which shows the kid they care enough about me to find me," Shetter said. "Every day I'm a priority."

"Before they had credits lost so if I don't go to school, there's nothing for me to lose because I've already lost credits," Garcia said. "So now, we get them in a position where they've invested something and I stand a chance of losing. That makes a difference in the program."

Here's a look at the four goals: attendance, academic growth, behavior, and positive interaction with other kids at school. Campus leaders say one of the biggest contributing factors to truancy is the sheer size of each campus.

"We have mega schools in Ector County and we do a very good job for about 70-80% of the kids," Shetter said. "But what about the other 20%? We don't have a smaller environment, we don't have a relationship - an intimate relationship with some of those kids."

And the directors tell us more than half of the kids in the program right now are already showing signs of success.

"She started crying and said, 'This is the first time that anyone has said Good Morning to me, or hey, you don't have the right uniform on, let's go get you something instead of: you don't have it, go to ISS.'" Shetter said.

"They act differently," Garcia said. "They have somebody at school who cares about them."

School leaders say this pilot program is still going through development. They plan on holding meetings during the next couple of weeks. and at that point several of the students will be ready to graduate from the program. That means they'll be ready to transition back into their home campus and finish the year out.