Marcus’s school recorded him as absent 28 out of the last 30 days of school. Already on the court’s radar screen for truancy, he was on the verge of being expelled.
Far more often than not, when kids like Marcus are court ordered to attend school, the assumption is they don’t value education. For kids that don’t—or can’t—comply, the result is they end up advancing in the justice system, not the educational system.
But FFI is in partnership with the court that oversees Marcus’s case, working with court personnel to improve outcomes for youth and families by focusing on wellbeing. So the court officer worked to understand the tradeoffs Marcus faced around going to school. And here’s what she found out:
- Marcus’s mom worked nights, which meant she couldn’t put her kids on the bus in the morning.
Marcus’s little sister’s bus came after his.
Marcus felt it wasn’t safe for his little sister to wait alone for the bus, so he stayed with her, then walked to school.
Marcus hadn’t missed 28 days of school—he was late, but most days, still going.
Marcus wanted to go to school, but he wasn’t willing to tradeoff his sister’s safety, and his mother couldn’t afford not to work. This wasn’t a kid indifferent to education; this was a kid who valued his responsibilities to the people he loved.
From this different understanding comes a completely different response.
Instead of simply explaining to Marcus he has to get to school on time or face additional consequences, the court officer worked with Marcus’s family to find a trusted neighbor who would wait with his little sister until the bus came. Now Marcus can catch his bus each morning, and be on time for school.
This is what it means to shift our focus from fixing problems to fostering wellbeing—the needs and experiences essential for health and hope. This is what takes us from seeing a dropout to seeing a whole person, with a unique mix of challenges and strengths. This is the reason Marcus gets to go on in school, and not in the justice system.