TROY – Chronic absenteeism is an old problem at regional schools, made more challenging by the COVID pandemic. While the State of Vermont has truancy boards in local communities, North Country Supervisory Union is interested in addressing chronic absenteeism earlier in the process.
“We’re trying a new approach at North Troy School starting this fall,” said Principal Dr. Eric Irwin. “NCSU already uses restorative approaches in other settings, and this is a natural extension to families with chronically absent students.”
Traditional absence policies, like truancy boards, can involve families in the justice system and have varied effectiveness, locally and nationally. Irwin points out that these options are still available, but the school is looking at supportive and accountable approaches on the community level as an earlier, first step.
The school will work closely with the Orleans County Restorative Justice Center on volunteer recruitment and training, according to Barbara Morrow, executive director. “This is a fantastic step for a Northeast Kingdom school, and it relies on a group of trained community volunteers with a good facilitator, to succeed.”
Morrow notes that resolving issues like school absenteeism on the community level is key, and has proven to be effective in other settings and in other school systems.
Absenteeism often can be solved with good parental coaching, and perhaps minor supportive intervention. The North Troy model concentrates on support and accountability for parents of absentee students, over time.
“The truth is, most parents are doing the best they can,” states Morrow. “We are reviving the ‘circle of wise grandparents’ approach, with a practical piece that moves parents to solutions for their kids. We know that trained volunteers are key and we will be recruiting them through the summer. There are no magic wands, but we believe this can help at least some families.”
For more information about the project, or to inquire about becoming a trained volunteer, contact Morrow at Orleans County Restorative Justice Center, (802) 487-9327, or Dr. Erwin at (802) 988-2565. The Justice Center is a non-profit with a mission to address conflict, assist with offender re-integration, and establish solutions for community at the lowest bureaucratic levels.