Their parents are in jail; they're abused at home; their family member is sick — all reasons students are absent from school. Instead of punishing them, school districts are using a new program to lead them to resources.
"We were coming across some trends we saw — hospice, family violence, tragic situations their mother and father are not in the picture, both parents incarcerated," said John Hernandez, East Central ISD Student Services director.
Hernandez created the EC Cares program using the entire school district to help the students.
"It's special because we've included cafeteria workers, we've included bus drivers, custodial staff, technology staff, all nurses in the district. We have a representative from each campus, and we meet every six weeks," Hernandez said.
In the program's first year, there were about 600 East Central students with 10 or more absences. Instead of sending them to truancy court, they dug a little deeper and found all but nine students had underlying traumatic issues. so they led them to resources instead.
The program was so successful that the Salud America! organization, through UT Health SA, caught wind. It helped create a digital toolkit districts can download.
That toolkit provides:
- A template to recruit staff to a committee
- Scientific information about trauma
- Help creating a chain of command when vulnerable students are identified
- Direction to the right resources
- Ways to get parents and the community involved
Salud America! researcher Amanda Merck called the toolkit one of a kind.
"Some schools are already doing some pieces, but this is the way we can make it more collaborative across the whole district," she said.
The program puts each child with trauma into a system with the dates of their traumatic events, so staff can offer extra help those days. This help travels with the student, with that information moving to every campus the students continues to.
"Whenever we identify a student, we put them in our Region 20 alert system to where every campus will know," Hernandez said.
Hernandez has met with nine other San Antonio area school district leaders, who have all expressed interest in the program. There is also interest in other districts across the nation.
To sign up for the free toolkit, click here.