PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University faculty members Paul Strand and Clayton Mosher have received John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Models for Change grants intended to help reverse a rising national trend in truancy, long considered an early warning sign of delinquent activity, social isolation and educational failure.
The researchers will use the grant funding to administer and evaluate programs to improve high school graduation rates across the state and create truancy prevention models that can be replicated nationally.
“The MacArthur Foundation funded states they thought were doing an exceptional job with juvenile justice to further those efforts and to identify models that could then be utilized in other states,” Strand said.
Washington’s Models for Change grant focuses specifically on finding alternatives to formal processing and secure confinement of truant youth, reducing disparities that lead to higher rates of racial and ethnic truancy, and improving how the system identifies and responds to youth with mental health needs.
Strand, an associate professor of psychology, has received three years of funding, totaling more than half a million dollars, from the Models for Change initiative at WSU’s Tri-Cities campus to evaluate and assess truancy programs in Spokane and Benton and Franklin counties.
He will use a recent $98,000 installment to work with Spokane Juvenile Court Services to replicate a model in five county school districts that has been successful in Spokane’s West Valley School District. That model uses a board comprised of school personnel, community volunteers and a court-appointed parole officer to work with truant students and their parents.
“A goal is to identify key elements of the program that should be sustained across sites while at the same time allowing for flexibility to utilize the individual strengths of the replicating schools and districts,” Strand said.
Together with the student and his or her family, the board develops a plan that mobilizes additional support for the truant youth, such as professional mental health counseling, faith-based support and a connection with community business leaders for job counseling and opportunities.
“The program requires a high degree of flexibility on the part of the school district and a commitment to identifying the different barriers these kids face towards graduation,” Strand said. “It requires administrators—superintendents and principals—to be on board. Kids usually respond to that because it shows that the school cares about them.”
Board visits are done in lieu of filing a formal petition with the state, as Washington’s Becca Law has deemed truancy a civil offense punishable by fines, community service or jail time.
“Utilizing existing data, we’ve found that the West Valley School District has had favorable outcomes with respect to lower rates of kids moving on to formal processing,” Strand said.
Mosher, a professor of sociology at WSU Vancouver, received $70,000 to evaluate the Clark County Models for Change project, which seeks to avoid detaining juveniles for violating state truancy laws.
Survey results for one component of the program, a truancy workshop for parents and youth, indicate participants have benefited from it.
“They appreciate the opportunity to meet individually with school representatives, and the parents in particular report that they feel that the workshop, and ‘larger’ approach to truancy in Clark County, is reflective of the fact that the community cares about their children,” Mosher said.
He will use data from the juvenile court to track any further involvement these youth have with the juvenile justice system. Data provided by schools, such as attendance, grades and graduation records, will allow him to track students who re-engage with school.
“It is part of a conscious effort (and) philosophy on the part of the Clark County Juvenile Court administration and staff to use detention as a last resort for truants,” Mosher said.
Strand also is working with the Spokane administrative office of the courts to administer and test a new instrument to help schools and the courts evaluate the psychosocial factors related to truancy.
Washington was one of four states chosen for the Models for Change initiative, which will complete its mission in 2012. The Center for Children & Youth Justice is the state’s lead agency for the initiative. Strand will help CCYJ evaluate all the projects that have been funded across the state to determine future steps.
Paul Strand, Department of Psychology, WSU Tri-Cities, 509-372-7177, pstrand@wsu.edu
Clayton Mosher, Department of Sociology, WSU Vancouver, 360-546-9439, cmosher@wsu.edu
Media contact:
Phyllis Shier, College of Liberal Arts, 509-335-5671, peshier@wsu.edu