Truant students receive CARE 

As a way to combat rising truancy rates in San Francisco’s public schools, city officials have created a new program in Bayview-Hunters Point to help foundering students stay on the road to academic recovery.

The Center for Academic Re-entry and Empowerment, or CARE, opened on Feb. 19 and offers school credit for truant youths, ages 13 to 16 years old, who complete a nine-week course that includes life-skills and individualized academic teachings, said Jill Fox of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and Their Families.

There were 528 chronic truant students — youth that accumulated 20 or more unexcused absences — in San Francisco public schools during the 2007-08 fall semester — a sharp increase from the 294 registered cases for the 2006-07 fall semester that is attributed to problems in high school attendance, according to district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

The biggest number of student truants reside in Bayview, as 1,159 of the 5,800 registered students in the area tallied at least 10 unexcused absences last year, Blythe said.

Locating the truancy program at the Bayview YMCA puts the help where its needed, CARE counselor Cassie Miller said.

"I think the students really relate to the personnel here," Miller said.

Currently, CARE has 12 students enrolled, CARE program Director Eason Ramson said. Despite histories as habitual truants, the youths have had a 99 percent attendance rate since the program started, Ramson said.

"Every day we have kids sitting on our steps in the morning, waiting for the teachers get here," said Ramson, a former professional football player who once suited up for the San Francisco 49ers.

Ramson credits the interactive personal relationship between the youths and CARE officials as the main source for the students’ renewed interest in learning.

After students complete the program, staff work to ensure they are re-enrolled in a high school that meets their academic needs, Fox said.

The San Francisco Unified School District has long struggled to boost student attendance, and was sharply criticized in a 2002-03 civil grand jury report, as "tolerating truancy."

In October, District Attorney Kamala Harris pledged to prosecute parents of children who consistently missed at least 20 school days without a parental note or phone call.

wreisman@examiner.com

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