Truancy coach helps Taos graduation rate increase

By Jesse Moya
jmoya@taosnews.com
Posted 4/18/19

Taos High School's graduation rate rose four percent in 2018 from the previous year. In 2017, the rate was 68 percent. School officials are directly relating student …

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Truancy coach helps Taos graduation rate increase

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Taos High School's graduation rate rose four percent in 2018 from the previous year. In 2017, the rate was 68 percent. School officials are directly relating student success to the attention employees like Necia Ethridge put forth in keeping students in schools.

Ethridge is a unique addition to Taos High School, working with hundreds of students through her role as a truancy coach. For four years, Ethridge has worked under the funding of Attendance Success Coach Grant from the state to improve the attendance of students at the high school and to help identify why students are chronically missing class.

"Often times truancy is a symptom of something else going on," she said.

According to Ethridge, over 300 students at Taos High School are chronically absent, meaning they have missed at least 10 classes this year. While many of these have excused absences behind them, some students are continuously missing school and she takes it upon herself to identify these students and bring them back into class.

"Increasing the graduation rate is a wonderful side effect of our efforts to increase individualized student support at the high school," Ethridge said. "Seeing student potential as future leaders and community members makes it easier to help them see it in themselves."

Students are allowed to have their absences excused for situations like doctors appointments, religious obligations and family emergencies. Students whose absences are not excused may have been ditching school, leaving at lunch if they are not a senior or other reasons.

Attendance is counted per class at Taos High School and is all done electronically through a computer program teachers can access. This data is shared with Ethridge as well as the state to ensure students are on track and not missing their studies.

Each class missed is counted toward the student's attendance. Ethridge has even built up an understanding among students about the need to attend class. Some now stop by her office just to ask how many absences they currently have logged.

"Necia is able to communicate with students and parents in a way to hopefully change some of their behaviors," said Taos High Principal Robbie Trujillo. "The type of person in that position has to be able to relate to students. You can't just have someone who is hard pressed and completely about consequence."

While the job of a truancy officer can tremendously help a school's efficiency, the work to get there is often time-consuming and difficult.

Taos High School has an auto-call feature that alerts parents if their student misses a class. Students receive a letter after the first three absences at school. After that, a letter is sent home after 5 absences. Once the student reaches 10, a meeting is called between the school and parents or guardians.

"It's never a blaming situation," Ethridge said.

She calmly explains to the parents or guardians that their child has been missing school, often before the child shows up to the meeting. It's at that point the situation may be identified and solutions could be offered.

Despite her difficult conversations, Ethridge builds lasting connections with her students and strives to listen to their situations before making her actions. The students are often walking by her office and popping in to say hi or to discuss their day and why they may have been late or absent.

"I get to meet some really awesome human beings," she said of her students. "They're not just kids who are having a tough time. They're community members."

Truancy coaches across the state may be getting a bit of backing thanks to House Bill 236, which was recently signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The bill calls for an attendance act to ensure student success through attendance monitoring much like Ethridge does at the high school.

The act calls for closer monitoring of students who are chronically absent and requires schools to have attendance plans to keep students in schools. While Ethridge has already been doing so, the act will further help drive home the need for attendance coaches across the state.

"When something like this doesn't exist at a high school, that's a lot of kids who can slip through the cracks," said Trujillo.

School officials are thankful for the work of the truancy department at Taos High and said they hope her work continues to help students, families and the community thrive.

"She really cares about our students and works diligently with our families to make sure they get the assistance they need in order to have their children come to school," said Taos School Superintendent Lillian Torrez.

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