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The Daily



09-11-03: JCEP program designed to keep students in school


Mercer County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter believes the new Juvenile Court Enrichment Program (JCEP) will nip truancy in the bud and reduce the likelihood of school dropouts in the future.
“I am really excited about this program,” she said. “Education is so important in today’s world. You can’t do anything without a high school diploma — the chances of getting ahead are slim to none.”
Any youth brought to court for truancy as well as those currently on probation will be ordered into JCEP. The program requires them to make up all unexcused absences, with the court and student’s home school monitoring attendance.
Plans call for the program to operate during Christmas vacation, spring break and summer months as needed. Students must spend one day in JCEP for each day of unexcused absence. Three unexcused tardy notices translate into a day at the designated location.
“It takes away all the glamour and defeats the purpose of skipping school,” Zitter added. “No one wants to sit in a classroom while friends enjoy time away from school.”
The court is in the process of contracting with the Mercer County Educational Service Center to provide at least one classroom and a teacher for the program. More could be needed depending on attendance in the future.
Sessions would run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Participants must bring assignments from their teacher or principal so they can receive credit for missed assignments.
“Students who miss school regularly face the challenge of trying to keep up,” Zitter said. “For some that challenge is insurmountable. They fall behind their peers, gradually lose interest and often leave school without a diploma.”
JCEP is designed to hold young people accountable for their actions. Sixteen have been assigned to the program thus far. Their parents will receive letters when and if make-up days are required.
Parents are required to pay $10 per day, with the money required in advance. In addition, they must provide lunch and transportation to and from the site as neither cafeteria nor bus service is available.
“Ninety-five percent of parents want their children to attend school regularly,” the judge said. “JCEP makes the 5 percent who don’t care accountable.”
There are no idle threats when it comes to complying with court-ordered participation. Students who choose to stay away face contempt of court charges and the possibility of being sent to the West Central Ohio Juvenile Detention Center in Troy. Parents then would foot the $90 per day bill.
Zitter credits Nick Schulze, a probation officer with juvenile court and county school attendance officer, who suggested the JCEP concept. The probation staff then fine-tuned the plan.
In 2002, he received 480 calls regarding truancy issues. Many turned out to be something else entirely, including parents who simply forgot to call school and report their child’s absence due to illness, appointments, funerals, etc. Some involved families moving from a school district and failing to request record transfers.
Ninety-four calls involved valid truancy issues, with a number of youths deemed repeat offenders. One family alone accounted for 11 calls, according to Schulze.
“Kids fall behind in school and then they lose interest,” he said. “Placing them in detention only compounded the problem. It really didn’t solve anything.”
Funding for the program will come from Reclaim Ohio, a state grant, as well as the $10 daily fee participants pay.
“This is a positive step in the right direction,” Zitter added. “It’s a teaching mechanism that lets young people know there are certain responsibilities in life. And one of them is attending school regularly or facing the consequences.”


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