Back to School: Educators give advice on keeping kids in school

Local News

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Teachers and administrators can expect a number of challenges facing students.

While most of those are in large part pandemic related, school attendance is just another obstacle they will have to overcome.

As the summer break ends, Rio Grande Valley school officials are preparing for the year ahead with the goal of keeping kids in school.

“It’s building that relationship that they all matter,” said Nikki Rowe High School Principal Monica Kaufman. And especially those that you can identify in the hallway, that they’re not making it, they’re not meeting the standards but then you’re saying ‘hey you can do this’, do not sell yourself short. My biggest motto is failure’s not an option.”

Principal Kaufman said that motto begins at home.

According to Texas Education Agency from the 2017-2018 school year, McAllen ISD had the lowest dropout rate (0.5%) amongst all Rio Grande Valley school districts.

Kaufman said it is important teachers and staff take action as soon as they see a child is missing.

“What we immediately do is we make phone calls,” she said. If they don’t answer then we immediately make home visits and we’re not afraid to go knocking on doors here to look for these kids.”

“Sometimes, especially during the pandemic time, we’ve had our students kind of displaced throughout,” said McAllen ISD Truancy Officer Amy Gonzalez. “I just don’t stop at the door, I ask neighbors, I walk sometimes half a block, you know, finding my kids. I need to find my kids because I need them here.”

Gonzalez said she understands students may face many different situations.

“Life does happen and whether we understand it or lived it we still have to figure out a way to work with them as a family,” Gonzalez said. “For me, everything is about working as a family and utilizing the school district [and] all the resources we have available to them. [We] offer them those options they have available to them versus, them maybe making an excuse to not come back.”

Whether it is teen pregnancy or a student who needs to work to support their family, Gonzalez said there are options that will allow students to stay in school despite their circumstances.

But, other times there is a lack of motivation, which is something Maryann Denner, Director and Chief Juvenile Probation Officer of the Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr. Juvenile Justice Center said can lead kids down the wrong path.

“The kids that usually typically may end up here with us are the kids dropping out that are unmotivated,” Denner said. There’s no specific reason why they dropped out. They’re not working, they’re not motivated to attend an alternative school, whatever the case may be, but they tend to get in trouble and they can end up here if they’re arrested for crimes they commit when they should be in school.”

Denner said keeping kids safe, and out of the criminal justice system also begins at home.

“Knowing what’s happening in your child. Take that special interest, or someone else with a bad influence will,” she said.

If a student does end up in the Juvenile Justice System, attending school is not an option.

“The conditions of probation for them are they have to be in school,” Denner said. So we hope they know that helps battle the dropout rate.”

Denner also said probation officers do school checks.

But school administrators said their hope is, it does not get to that point.

“They have to work together,” said Jose Soto, McAllen ISD Coordinator for Student Enrollment & Attendance. They have to work together, it’s not the school against the parent, it’s the parent and the school working together to help the child succeed.”

Principal Kaufman leaves this message for her students.

“You have to put that scenario into perspective [that] you have all of the rest of your life to work,” she said. You only have a few years with me. Let me get you to that next level to where you don’t have to do this and then we work out a plan together.

Kaufman added, “you got to say, is this the way you want to live the rest of your life? Or what else can you give?”

Gonzalez urges parents not to give up on their kids.

“I mean this has been tough for everyone and sometimes we fall behind but there are programs, there are resources here that we have available to advance them so yeah I don’t give up,” Gonzalez said.

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