New program aims to improve truancy rates in Callaway County

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FULTON - Educators in Callaway County identified a total of 140 students from four middle schools who missed more than 17 days of school this year.

A new program, Working to Inspire Student Education (WISE), aims to address the problem without sending the students to juvenile court. Fulton, New Bloomfield, North and South Callaway middle schools will work with the Family Court and Juvenile Office of Callaway County and William Woods University to address the attendance issue.

“Absence and truancy is a really big deal and when kids aren’t at school, they aren’t learning and then it also sets up habits that will then affect them after school,” said Beth Houf, principal at Fulton Middle School.

Houg said she has some students who have missed up to 50 school days. 

“What we want to do is address the needs of school attendance and school performance through collaboration among our agencies without necessarily having to have these youth be referred to the juvenile court or be under a formal supervision,” said Ruth McCluskey, chief juvenile officer for the 13th Circuit.

13th Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court Judge Sue Crane approached Cynthia Kramer, a professor of legal studies at William Woods University, asking if she would be interested in partnering with the court system.  

“Of course we said yes because it provides so many neat opportunities for our students here at William Woods University," said Kramer. "William Woods University will provide support for those students so for example our education students, and social work students might work with those students in regard to what some of those problems might be and then our legal studies and criminal justice students will be be advocates and work in the operation of the court room."

Although it’s not a real court, it will operate like one.

“When they get here, this will be operating just like a regular courtroom will. So everyone’s going to sit down out there, there will be a bailiff, there will be 'all rise',” said Kramer.

Program organizers say the goal is not to scare students, but to get them back in class. 

“It’s not a gotcha it’s more to me as a mentoring. William Woods is such an awesome partner and bringing students in to help mentor students and then just teach some replacement behaviors of what can we do to get students to school so that then it’s so much more than just what’s happening within middle school, it’s beyond,” said Houf.