The Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland signed a contract and received a grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth to identify and serve 245 local youths at risk of becoming delinquent.
“Our focus will be on intervening with truant youth, an effective point to break the cycle and prevent the more serious offenses that typically follow without intervention,” said Charles E. Sutton, executive director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
“Additional outreach events will take place in communities where the beginning signs of delinquency exist. During the events, at-risk individuals will be recruited into the DPI program.”
Specific at-risk factors include early academic failure, indifference at school, early and persistent anti-social behavior, rebellion, family conflict, extreme economic deprivation and low community attachment.
In a recent letter to Bradley County Juvenile Court Judge Daniel Swafford, Sutton spoke of a partnership with the Juvenile Divison at campus court where the DPI program staff would work with youth service officers to get truant students involved.
“Our goal is to reduce incidences of delinquency and increase high school graduation rates in our community by intervening at the the truancy stage with proven, quality after-school programming that includes study and life skills,” Sutton wrote.
“Our objectives are to (1) reduce the number of local students progressing from truancy to more serious offense by 10 percent in each year of the Delinquency Prevention Initiative, and (2) have 100 percent program participants remain in school until they successfully earn their high school diploma.”
According to Sutton, this will be accomplished by the addition of DPI coordinators at each of the Boys & Girls clubs units establishing a connection with youth service officers at each school to intervene in the lives of students who are truant.
Sutton said DPI coordinators will examine the needs and interests of each student referred to the program by Youth Service Officers and then create a guidance plan for each participant.
Each participant will thereafter have their own profile that tracks attendance, report card progress, activity participation, guidance, outcomes, high school graduation and other key statistics.
The identity of all DPI participants will be protected by assigning DPI identification numbers that are different than Boys & Girls club members’ regular ID numbers. All sensitive data is password protected.
The benefits of the DPI program for truant students are numerous, according to Sutton, who said he believes it will counter the negative influence of delinquency risk factors by providing each youth a support team of individuals from their family, school, club and community who can provide guidance, tutoring, moral support, inspiration, mentoring, recognition and advocacy.
“This is all about early intervention,” Sutton said. “It’s going to help kids who are having challenges in school as well as kids who are truant. It’s also about helping kids who are already coming to the club — having a staff person working with them — sort of like a school counselor would in plotting out the steps they need to take in order to go to college.”
“I believe we will be able to reach more kids one-on-one and help them get their high school diploma, reach college or get to a trade school,” said DPI Director Britt Debusk. “That’s our goal. I’m very excited about the program. My wife is a teacher at Arnold (Elementary) and we’re always around the kids. So this is a step in that same direction.”
Parents are encouraged to become involved in the program by helping their child with homework, reading, discussing current events and taking part in other educational skills. Participating youths will also be given incentives such as school supplies, field trips, additional computer time and special privileges within the Boys & Girls Club.
“We’re extremely excited about this program and our board of directors is very excited about it also,” Sutton said. “The idea of kids graduating from college as opposed to dropping out at the high school level is going to have a huge economic impact on our community.
“The fewer kids that are growing up and following the economic path of the past the better. A child with a high school diploma stands a better chance than a kid without one. If you get a college degree, that opens up the door even more for the future. This is not about hoping to go to college. This is about actually having a plan to go to college and doing it.”
The Delinquency Prevention Initiative is an extension of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Gang Prevention through Targeted Outreach program. For further information, visit www.boysandgirlsclubs.info/ or call 559-8299.