Keeping Children in School is the Right Thing

Everyday Counts

Julio, a bright eyed, energetic, six-year old first-grader in a Bellevue elementary school is chronically tardy and frequently absent from school. When the school’s attendance secretary called his home one morning, Julio answered the phone.  “She’s sleeping” said Julio when the secretary asked for Mom. “She worked all night cleaning at the hospital.” His mom does custodial work on the “graveyard” shift.

Studies show unequivocally that children who fall behind in learning in early grades are rarely able to catch up and experience academic success. Educators often say, “By third grade, you must learn to read and from then on, you must read to learn.” Julio, through no fault of his own, is losing ground every day he’s tardy or misses school altogether. He is just six years old.

Video games are the passion of Jesse (a middle-schooler).  He’s connected online with a group of middle school peers who compete head-to-head and, sometimes as groups, in combat-style games. Often, the competition heats up in the late evening and Jesse stays engaged into the wee hours of the morning.  Since his parents leave by 6:30 a.m. for work, they count on Jesse to get himself to school. Even when he attends, Jesse misses the first two or three periods of the school day.

Successful transitions from 5th to 6th grade and from 8th to 9th are critical to a student’s continued progress toward high school graduation.  Jesse got distracted by the video games as he began the first year of middle school.  Just when his parents work schedule required him to assume more personal responsibility for attending school, he slipped through the transition gap and cannot realize that his future is at stake.  A high school diploma is typically the minimum credential for long-term employment and life success. In Bellevue, the five-year high school graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 94.5%. This means that more than 80 students did not attain this crucial credential within five years of starting ninth grade. The students who did not complete high school are not randomly distributed throughout the population. They are mostly male (71%), often Black or Hispanic (31%), and likely face an additional challenge such as low family income (39%), limited English proficiency (20%), a special education need (32%), and/or being homeless (6%).

Community Support Required

Julio and Jesse represent a segment of the local student population in dire need of community support.  When students need an extra dose of structure or support to get attendance habits back on track, they connect with the Community Truancy Board (CTB) at the Bellevue School District. The CTB combines the power of the court, the resources of the school district, community members and the involvement of the family to respond effectively to a student’s truancy.  CTB engagement is often an effective way to: start the conversation with a family about student attendance, reestablish a connection between school staff and a student, and identify what changes need to occur to help the student get back on track.

 Volunteers Staff the CTB

The Board meets weekly and is staffed with community volunteers, district employees, and city staff.  Typically, a community volunteer serves just one day per month.  At the CTB meetings, conversations with students and their families surface many potential solutions to improve attendance.  CTB serves over 50 chronically absent students per year – meeting with most multiple times.

The CTB builds a culture of service among Board members so that, when children have an unmet need impacting their attendance, the community will find a way to address it. Board members have secured outside services for students and families through numerous organizations such as Jubilee REACH, Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. The Kid REACH tutoring program at BelPres is also a factor in this culture of community support.

Community volunteers are trained before they hear cases at CTB. They learn skills of “mindful inquiry” and reflective listening.  Board members are non-judgmental, clear-spoken and interested in the safety and well-being of students and their families. They attend hearings on a regular basis, read background material on the cases, ask open-ended questions of students, parents/guardians and participate in creating recommendations for a plan to help students achieve regular school attendance.

 Student and Parent Testimonies

While the work of the CTB is a strategy for meeting the requirements of Washington State law mandating school attendance, the great benefits are those realized by the students who follow the Board’s recommendations and attend school. In the close of the past school year, the mother of a former chronically truant student expressed her gratitude to the CTB: “You helped very much in terms of motivation and support. Without you, we wouldn’t have known what to do… At the truancy board meetings, I learned the meaning of community:  it means our family and everyone coming together to help each other out. I am very grateful because, without them, my daughter would not have made a turn around and been recognized for it. She still has a ways to go but she graduated high school and is now taking classes at Bellevue College.”

The daughter rediscovered her potential and found the CTB to be a supportive community presence that held her accountable.  She said, “The Truancy Board was helpful because they kept me accountable to the plan. It was good to come to the meetings every month. Their encouragement helped me learn from my mistakes and I didn’t give up.”  Many students and families need the surrounding community to help them meet the challenges of daily life.  Children who experience academic success and graduate from high school with a post-secondary plan are better equipped for adult life, responsible citizenship and making a contribution to our community.

BelPres Involvement 

Multiple members of BelPres have served on the Community Truancy Board and attest to its value and results. In the words of Dave Cole, “The experience of being a part of the Truancy Board has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life.  Witnessing a vulnerable, young, male student – so deeply troubled from previous sexual abuse – successfully bond with a teacher who showed him unconditional love was truly amazing. Over time, the boy’s life was transformed.  I heard that teacher say, with tears rolling down her cheeks, ‘I love that child.’  The work of the CTB is remarkable.”

Approaching the new school year, the CTB has vacancies to be filled. Please contact Community Outreach Director, Tom Brewer for further information about serving on the CTB.

A Greater Purpose

I was recently listening to a class on the Internet when the speaker told us he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He had felt a sudden pain in his side, went to the doctor, underwent a battery of tests and discovered he had an incurable form of cancer.  So, he is undergoing a series of treatments to slow cancer’s growth.  But before any of us could respond, he directed us to Psalm 139 verses 13 through 15 where we read together: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  Then he repeated the last phrase: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

“Cancer,” he said, “is not going to shorten my life.  It’s not going to steal one extra day of my life away from me because God has already determined the number of days I will live before I get to go and see Jesus. So I am not afraid of cancer. In fact, my wife and I are kind of odd ducks because we are the only ones in this special cancer unit who are not afraid of it. We feel really blessed. This hospital is close by and it’s the only one in the country that specializes in researching and treating this form of cancer. Everyone has to fly here for treatment while we just drive, then go home and sleep in our own bed. God has sent us there because I don’t think any of the doctors have ever met a Christian. And now I get to show them the love and peace Jesus has given me. This is the mission God has given us right now.”

I had a hard time paying attention to the rest of his lecture because I was so deeply impacted by his testimony. Was he saying that God caused his cancer? No. But he was saying God had given him a mission purpose even in something like a cancer diagnosis.  The patients and medical staff in the cancer wing are his mission field and his purpose is to reflect the Jesus he would spend eternity with.

Jesus said (John 20:21), “As the Father has sent me; I am sending you.” This is such a significant statement.  Jesus is saying the mission God had given Him is now the very mission He is giving to us. Jesus’ mission was more than dying for sins.  Jesus started a movement called the “Kingdom of God.” It looks like heaven on earth. Healing, miracles, forgiveness, sharing the Good News about God, caring for the poor and oppressed, are all previews of what that Kingdom will finally and fully look like. His death and resurrection secured its eventual coming.  Then, before His ascension, He entrusted His mission to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  That’s you and me. Even life’s big surprises, like a cancer diagnosis, have a greater purpose. We get to bring heaven on earth with the remainder of the days ordained for us. We change the atmosphere around us by reflecting the hope, love, and peace of Jesus who lives in us. So what greater purpose can you find in the situation you are in right now? Who is Jesus sending you to for a time such as this?

New Horizons serving the young and homeless

Youth homelessness impacts nearly 1,500 youth in King County every day.

Increasing at an annual rate of 20% over the past three years, homelessness is an acknowledged state of emergency in King County. Youth make up a significant portion of these numbers.  However, services available to youth are notably fewer than those available to other demographics experiencing homelessness.

“Count Us In,” King County’s one-night count of homeless and unstably housed individuals, revealed that there was somewhere around 800-850 youth on the streets in King County, with at least 200-300 of them spending each night in alleyways, under bridges, in cars, or in tents.

“The root cause of youth homelessness is family disruption. We serve young people ages 18 to 24 – folks you would expect to be at home.  But the youth we serve don’t have that option,” says Mary Steele of New Horizons.

A common misconception is that youth on the streets are rebellious, headstrong runaways. The truth is that many youths leave home as a means of survival due to physical or sexual abuse. Others are forced out because of rifts between stepparents and children or parents who suffer from substance abuse problems. Many youth age out of foster care or leave juvenile corrections with no place to go. Left with little choice, these young people leave often dangerous homes for dangerous streets and must figure out how to survive with almost no resources or relationships. Nationwide studies reveal:

  • One in three youth on the streets has been involved in foster care, sometimes living in 20+ homes by age 18.
  • Nationally, over one in four youth who “come out” to their parents as LGBTQ are thrown out of their home.
  • Surveys show that between 50-60 percent of homeless youth have been physically or sexually abused in their own home.

 Effects of Youth Homelessness

Being homeless has repercussions that can last well beyond transition into sustainability. The more time a young person spends without a stable home, the more difficult success becomes in almost every area of life, even after leaving the streets.

  • Exploitation – The streets make youth more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, increasing the risk of disease, injury, and death.
  • Arrest – Homeless youth are 2.5X more likely to be arrested as adults when compared with stably housed peers.
  • Mental Illness – Homeless youth report higher rates of mental illness symptoms, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety, resulting in increased risk for suicide attempts.

New Horizons (NH) offers programs to facilitate youth’s transition off the streets. From a hot meal and shower to case management and job training, NH meets youth where they are and reconnects them to their God-given potential and empowers them toward success.

Because youth may arrive distraught, disconnected, or disillusioned, NH seeks to be a safe place where they will be accepted for who they are. Inspired by the love of Jesus, NH offers services and love to any and every youth who comes to them in need of assistance, because each person deserves to be loved, seen, known, and respected.

What New Horizons Offers

    • Outreach – Teams of staff and volunteers set out on foot to connect with youth around the city to let them know about our services and programs.
    • Day Program – Day programs offer the opportunity to explore new interests like writing or music, as well as connect with various community partners. Breakfast served from 8:15 – 9:00am, Monday-Thursday.
    • Drop-In – These two hours (Sunday – Thursday. 7:00 – 9:00pm) give youth access to services like a meal, showers, laundry, clothing, and sign-ups for case management & shelter.
    • Emergency Shelter – Opened February 2016 in a partnership with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, 22 beds provide a safe place to rest for homeless youth five nights a week. Sunday – Thursday. 9:30pm – 7:30am.
    • The Nest – A transitional shelter providing a space for 12 youth to temporarily reside while they search for permanent housing.
    • Case Management – Case managers assist with housing placements, employment applications, government documents, and other barriers to exiting the streets.
    • Youth Employment Program – Nine-month apprenticeships providing youth a safe opportunity to earn a stipend, learn a hard skill, and develop relevant soft skills for long-term employment.
    • Street Bean – Since 2009 Street Bean Coffee Roasters has been New Horizons’ job training partner, training apprentices as baristas and teaching them the basics of roasting and coffee shop operation.

BelPres prayerfully supports the ministry of New Horizons with volunteers, funds, and advocacy.  Anyone interested in engaging with NH may contact BelPres’ Community Outreach Director, Tom Brewer