With a reported success rate of 91% during the 2020-21 school-year, a partnership between local elementary schools and the Green River Area Development District continues to expand to help more students who are habitually truant turn over a new leaf.

Known as Parent Engagement Meetings, the program originated about 11 years ago in Jefferson County Public Schools through a grant administered by Community Collaboration For Children, with the goal of helping children ages 5-11 break the habit of missing school.

“The goal was to branch out into rural areas of Kentucky,” Kristy James, a GRADD parent engagement facilitator, said Tuesday. “We applied for the grant, and Green River Area was the first rural region to receive it.”

The program was launched during the 2018-19 academic-year in Daviess County Public Schools’ Meadow Lands and Burns elementary schools and Owensboro Public Schools’ Estes Elementary School. It has since expanded to include all DCPS elementary schools, three OPS elementary schools and, most recently, McLean County Public Schools District elementary schools, which were added this school year.

“We are an intervention diversion program,” James said. “Our goal is to help families not have to be involved with the court system or with the Department for Community Based Services.”

James said that even above that goal is the goal of ensuring that children are attending school, “because we know the value of that instruction time for children.”

When a child is at risk for referral to Child Protective Services for educational neglect, a meeting is arranged with the child’s parent or guardian, school personnel, a CPS representative and a PEM facilitator. During this meeting, obstacles for better attendance are identified, as well as available resources to help overcome those obstacles. An agreed upon plan is established to prevent further truancy.

James said parents and guardians have significant involvement in how successful the program can be for their student.

“They are given a voice during the meeting to be able to discuss with us what might be going on, what struggles they may be having at home, what struggles the child may be having, what is going well and what we can build on in giving them that voice and an opportunity to be heard,” she said.

James said the GRADD PEM facilitator will also follow up with the student and family to ensure that the action plan that they designed together is being utilized, and will also determine if, since the initial meeting, there is anything else the program can assist with.

The Parent Engagement Meetings utilize a $50,000 grant to provide these services, which James said goes beyond a child simply filling a seat in a classroom.

“There is so much that they gain by just being there and interacting with the teacher and other students,” she said. “ Especially at elementary age, this is the basis of their learning experience, so the more that they are there, the more that they are in person and with other students, the more successful they are.”

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