The Non-Public Team's Case Managers Help Students Stay in School 

May 13, 2011

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Donica Tate and Nickaya Foster, case managers for the non-public team at DCPS, don’t hesitate when asked what they think is the most important part of their job.

They both agree that the answer is listening.

For the past three years, the non-public team has used case managers to focus on bringing back to school the DCPS students at non-public schools who are truant.

Currently, the case managers are a team of six who divide up a caseload of nearly 300 truant students. To be truant, students either do not show up to school five days in a row or for 10 total days over the course of the school year.

“Our main goal with truancy is to get the student to return to school. If it’s not that same non-public school, then it’s finding another school that student will attend,” said Nickaya.

Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, and it involves a high level of commitment on the part of the case managers. The first step is finding the student, which ranges from making home visits to searching the neighborhood for friends who can help locate the student.

At the end of the day, the case managers play the role of investigator, supporter and counselor for many students.

For many of these students, they face major challenges each and every day that make school seem unimportant or impossible to attend. There are students who are homeless, incarcerated, need to work to support their parents or who have families of their own to support.

With such personal and seemingly insurmountable issues on the table, the case managers walk a fine line between keeping professional and personal relationships separate.

“I try to let the students know right away that I care about their education,” said Nickaya. “And for a lot of them, it is like, ‘Okay, wow, you actually care that I go to school and get an education because no one else does.’”

“We play the role of being nurturing and being stern,” said Donica. “Even though I care about the student, this is still my job, and you have to be stern and let the students know that. You teach them the boundaries that there is someone there for you, but that person is a professional.”

Once case managers locate the truant student, the next step is to call an IEP meeting to look at what support the student needs to stay in school. The IEP team creates an attendance contract, which will be reviewed 30 days later to make sure the student still is coming to school and the terms of the contract will work for the student’s needs.

For some of the students, it’s a matter of asking them what they want in order to encourage them to stay in school and graduate.

“A lot of times, no one asks the students what they want,” said Donica. “One student was homeless and not coming to school. No one thought to ask him if he actually wanted to be there. I helped send him to the AdvancePath Academy, and now he goes everyday. No one was listening to him or asking him what he thought was best for him.”

“I had one student at a non-public school, and his mom really just didn’t like it, so we put him at Coolidge High School,” said Nickaya. “He is graduating this year, and he has been doing so well that he doesn’t receive special education services anymore.”

Sometimes, the students cannot be found. If families have moved without leaving a forwarding address or if students are incarcerated, it can be difficult to locate them.

Other times, students who are located will not return to school, which often is the case for students who are between the ages of 19 to 22. The case managers talk about how many students in this age range stop coming to school because they get a full-time job.

“They aren’t seeing the bigger picture, that you can make so much more money when you finish school,” said Donica.

For those students who are located and can agree to an attendance contract that works for them, their cases are closed. For the case managers, that is the ultimate goal.

“I will tell the student, ‘I am finished with you professionally, but personally, I am still here,’” said Donica. “‘If you need to talk, I am here. If you are having an issue, I am here.’”

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