School districts work to fight truancy

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- KEPR is always keeping track of what's going on in our local schools. We looked into the latest numbers of kids who are skipping class.

From incentive-based attendance policies to alternatives for truant high school students, our community doesn't want these kids left behind.

Kimberly Contreras became a statistic when she stopped going to high school two years ago.

"Under some circumstances, I had to leave Chiawana High School," she says.

The 18-year-old found her way back through CBC's High School Academy. The program helps truant students and other dropouts get their high school diploma, rather than a GED.

"I knew that if I didn't have the motivation to attend class every day to learn what I needed to learn to graduate, that wasn't going to happen," she says.

But not all students are so fortunate. Recent numbers released by the state show how many kids missed at least a week of school in a single month. All three districts have seen jumps year over year. Reps with the district say an exponential jump in Kennewick comes from a change in how the absences are reported.

Numbers aside, it's a trend that Kennewick Principal Diana Burns wants to change. She handles attendance matters at Horse Heaven Hills Middle School. It's where the United Way's incentive-based "Attendance Matters" campaign is in full swing.

"We go to each classroom, talk about the importance of attendance to every classroom, and then students signed a pledge," Burns says.

Districts now offer coupons and sports tickets for kids who maintain perfect attendance. And while comprehensive attendance numbers won't be available until the end of the year, Diana says the campaign is working.

"A couple of them are coming up and saying, 'Hey, I haven't missed school for over a week,'" Burns says.

But for kids like Kimberly, who had to leave the district and find an alternative route to her GED, she has a word of advice:

"If you get the opportunity, take it. Because not many second opportunities are offered for high school dropouts."

The "Attendance Matters" campaign was rolled out last year.

The goal of the campaign is have kids not miss more than nine school days a year in Benton and Franklin Counties.