Montgomery County’s “Truancy Prevention Program” holds in-person graduation ceremony for first time since pandemic began

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (WDVM) — Many people have talked about how the transition back to the classroom was difficult for many students after over a year of virtual learning. What often doesn’t get mentioned are the students who struggled to get back into the classroom at all.

Thanks to Montgomery County’s “Truancy Prevention Program”, 42 students from middle schools across the area realized how big an effect just showing up can have on their performance in class, and were celebrated with a graduation ceremony.

While Wednesday’s graduation was the first in-person ceremony since the start of the pandemic, the Truancy Prevention Program has been in the county since 2010. Montgomery County Public Schools identify students in need of help with improving their attendance and match these kids with mentors over the course of the 10-week program.

“If a child can find a meaningful adult in a learning environment, that can change their experience. Maybe it’s a coach, maybe it’s a counselor,” said John McCarthy, the state’s attorney for Montgomery County.

A student speaker shared that having an adult working with them weekly and holding them accountable made all the difference in their performance.

“Just knowing that I have to do it just kind of helps me get [the] will to do [it] — to get up and go to school,” said Shane gaskins, an 8th grader at Eastern Middle School, one of three graduating students invited to give speeches during the event. “To keep me consistent.”

This semester, the program focused heavily on eighth-graders, who have lost a significant portion of their school experience to the pandemic.

“These children have really only been in middle school for a semester and a half, in sixth grade, and then it stopped,” said Georgine DeBord, manager of the Truancy Prevention Program. “Last year they didn’t go. And next year they’re going to high school, where it’s a different world there. So we’re really trying to work with the eighth graders and get them used to what the expectations are going to be.”

In all, 98 students were a part of the fall semester program. DeBord said she expects next semester’s graduation to be even larger, as in-person learning provides schools with more accurate data on which students need help making it to school in the morning.

The students were required to have no more than six absences during their time in the program (and no more than four could be unexcused). The children were held to a high standard to graduate, but program heads said they worked with and were flexible with students who missed a significant number of days due to family issues or illness.

While just under half of the students involved were able to graduate, according to DeBord, another 20% still saw a “marked improvement” in their attendance records.

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