skip to Main Content

Truancy Reengagement: Bridging the Gap for Students

by Manuel Aragon (he/him), Senior Director of Programs at Colorado Youth for a Change

Truancy is one of the most commonly referred to and yet least understood aspects of the education space. We talk a lot about our Reengagement program both on this blog and elsewhere, but the truancy aspect of our work is something we haven’t shared much about. The truancy process, carried out in Denver Public Schools (DPS) by both the district and Colorado Youth for a Change, is intended to support students who are attending school 50% or less of the time but have not yet formally unenrolled. The work of our two Truancy Reengagement Specialists is nuanced because of the wide variety of circumstances that these young people are facing, whether that be truancy court, personal barriers to attending school on a regular basis, or many others. Additionally, the Colorado truancy process only covers youth up to 16 years old, creating a population of 16- and 17-year-olds who have low attendance but no intervention from their school district.

How are schools and our team adapting to meet the needs of these students?

Student interventions and support across all grade levels are central to what we do at Colorado Youth for a Change. Our Reengagement program started to help fill a gap in the education system, giving students relational support to navigate complex barriers as they work towards graduation or completion of their GED.

Education is a constantly shifting landscape (even more so over the past three years), which means that while our reengagement approach has changed over time, our commitment to youth and school districts throughout Colorado has not. For our Reengagement team, this has meant refining our focus areas and support services within DPS.

Truancy has become a post-pandemic refinement of our Reengagement program, with the addition of two new Truancy Reengagement Specialists, Joana Garcia (she/her) and Sandra Little (they/them, left in photo above). Joana and Sandra support students who are at or below the 50% attendance threshold—in other words, students who could soon be entered into the truancy process or are already in the truancy process. This process involves outreach and intervention by district staff and/or CYC staff and can be initiated on any student ages 6 to 16 classified as meeting the truancy threshold. CYC currently supports middle and high school-aged students (ages 11-17) in the truancy process. Denver Public Schools initiates court proceedings against truant students only as a “’last resort approach’ and only after the school has attempted other interventions out of court.” (Denver7, 2023).

Working with students and families in the truancy or reengagement process can often be complicated. Systemically, there are many challenges a middle or high school student can face that impact their attendance, grades, and chances of graduating. Inconsistent transportation might be an issue. With Denver suffering from inflation and housing scarcity, the family might rely on the student to work and help provide an additional source of income to maintain housing. Students may have a conflict with other students that impacts their direct safety at school. These and many other factors outside of school make each student’s situation unique.

Joana and Sandra often work as a bridge between a student and schools, helping students find connections and solutions to either reengage in schools where they are currently struggling or new school placements if needed. They offer navigational support for students to reconnect with their schools and help students find the best educational support for their schooling journey.

Each day as a Truancy Specialist looks different, and below is a glance at what a typical week can look like for our Truancy team:

Monday: Joana talks to a student on the phone, age 17. The student has been having a hard time with school, particularly with another group of students who have been harassing them and doesn’t want to return to the same school they had been attending. Joana, using connections within DPS, provides the student a few potential schooling options within their region. The student identifies a few schools that work best for them and over the next few days, Joana will help the student request an administrative transfer to a new school.

Tuesday: Sandra meets with the attendance team at Denver North High School. The attendance team does the important work of identifying students who are struggling with attendance and grades and trying to connect them to the right supports. Sandra receives a list of students who are on the cusp of the truancy process, and later that afternoon, they will meet with three of those students to work through each of the student’s barriers and put together an educational plan.

Wednesday: Sandra and Joana work with DPS’s legal team to provide information for students who have been entered into the truancy court docket. Both team members, along with their manager, Dylan Serdenia (she/they), will submit a report for each student on the docket that week. Each Truancy Specialist may need to show up to court to speak on behalf of students in their caseload and the work they have done to be removed from the truancy docket. This work might include visits to new schools, adding their names to waitlists at other schools, and attending their currently assigned school.

Thursday: Joana meets with a student at Northfield High School during her office hours at Northfield. She speaks with a student about their educational preferences and lands on Montbello Career and Technical High School (MCT) as a potential option. Joana lets the student know that they would be able to tour, but they might not be able to enroll until August. They agree to do a tour there and move forward with other school options if the student doesn’t think MCT is a good fit.

Friday: Sandra, Joana, Dylan, and the rest of the Reengagement team meet with the Denver Public Schools Transitions team. The DPS team is led by Aviva Katz (she/her) and works to make sure that students can access schooling options that best suit their needs. This includes schools that offer credit recovery, schools that provide daycare for teen parents, schools with alternate schedules for working students, and GED options. The team shares their successes, their struggles, and prepares for the next week of working with students.

Supporting student success takes a team of teachers, administrators, mentors, and more to help a student reach their full potential. Denver Public Schools has 108 schools that serve 45,157 middle and high school students. To ensure that these students succeed, we need layers of support to meet students where they are. Our Truancy team plays a vital role in that ecosystem.

Resources (Denver7, 2023)

If you would like to learn more about this topic, we are hosting a panel on chronic absenteeism via our Colorado Reengagement Network on April 18 on Zoom! The panel discussion will be followed by time for questions. We hope to see you there!

Back To Top