Volunteers with Clark County District Court’s Truancy Diversion Program were recognized Friday for their efforts to help keep students in school.
Debra Harper, a volunteer at Green Valley High School, said it’s crucial to develop connections with students and help them understand how attendance affects their future.
“I think it’s important for students to feel like there’s somebody who cares about them,” Harper said. “(The program) is a way to engage them and let them know that there is hope.”
The program, created in 2002, places volunteer judges, attorneys, law enforcement officials and other professionals in elementary, middle and high schools in Clark County. The 51 volunteers — one per school — serve as mentors, meeting with students and their parents weekly to address their truancy and to create a plan that will motivate them to attend class regularly.
Eleven volunteers attended Friday’s reception at the Family Court building, 601 N. Pecos Road.
Former Family Court Judge Gerald Hardcastle started the program, and Family Court Judge William Voy currently oversees it. Voy said volunteers must walk a fine line between asserting authority and offering a helping hand to struggling students.
“The first step in our process is to turn around whatever issues are facing the children,” Voy said. “With early intervention, we try to catch signs early enough so they never end up in the formal juvenile justice system.”
Luchana Turner, a substitute teacher and volunteer at Cheyenne High School, said she enjoys helping minority students and those with difficult home lives.
“I let them know even if there is a problem at home, that school is a way to escape, to get the education they need to help them change their own lives regardless of the environments they’ve been in,” Turner said.
District Court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said more than 1,600 students participated in the program this past school year.
An annual federal grant of $200,000 from 2014-2016 enabled the program to expand to 89 schools. But the number of participating schools dropped when the grant ended, since schools must now pay for the $3,950 program.
Voy said he hopes to shift the financial responsibility from the schools to the district and to implement the program at more campuses.
“Funding is a big challenge now,” longtime volunteer Mike Dreitzer said. “So it would be nice to get the word out about the program so people throughout the city see the impact it can have. Pretty much anybody can get involved, and they will see how worthwhile it is and the kind of difference they can make.”
Contact Amanda Bradford at email@example.com or 702-383-0279. Follow @amandabrad_uc on Twitter.
The Dispute Resolution Society at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law assists in the volunteer recruitment process for the Truancy Diversion Program. Attorneys, mental health professionals or law enforcement officials interested in volunteering may call 702-455-1755.