Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath kept using words such as "outstanding" and "great" to describe the early results of a new mentoring program instituted by the Allen County Juvenile Justice Center. He also said "wow" at least once, if not more.
And if the results from the first semester of the Check and Connect Program at three Fort Wayne Community Schools high schools remain consistent, Heath will continue to be happy.
The pilot program, which matches specially trained mentors with students identified as at-risk for truancy, has caused a noticeable improvement in attendance rates among the initial 60 students spread throughout North Side, South Side and Wayne high schools.
The program is small but can, and likely will, expand. Looking at the numbers so far, Heath said he expects the program to continue to be successful.
Then Heath used the word "stunning."
What specifically he was applying such hyperbole to was the suspension rate for these students, targeted in eighth grade and now in their freshman year. They, and their parents, commit to the program for two years, through the end of their sophomore year.
So far, the suspension rate for those students dropped more than 60 percent, according to early data. The number of days tardy for those students dropped by 41 percent.
"The kids are there, and they’re there on time," Heath said.
The Family Relations judge pitched the program just 14 months ago, one year into his tenure at the helm of the juvenile court after years in the civil division.
The program, developed by the University of Minnesota in the 1990s, targets children who show signs of growing disinterested with school, through absences or grades.
Check and Connect is funded locally by the Family Relations division of the Allen Superior Court, and in May, trainers came from Minnesota. It is also implemented in East Allen County Schools, Heath said.
The mentors check in with students, monitoring their behavior for signs of "early school withdrawal," according to Heath.
They then connect with students through conversation and guidance, helping them build positive behavior patterns in their education journey.
It is more of a coaching report than a lecture, said Chris Hissong, FWCS high school area director.
FWCS and juvenile justice center officials also see the program’s peer impact, though it is much harder to quantify. Students in the program are in school more than they were before. As a result, members of their social circles are inclined to be in school alongside them, remaining more engaged than they might have been.
School is a social thing for the students, said Debra Faye Williams-Robbins, FWCS assistant superintendent for secondary schools.
The schools cannot help students learn if those students are not present in the classroom.
"The more they’re there, the greater their access," Williams-Robbins said.