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October 12, 2007

CONTACT: Steve Tompkins
(617) 961-6650


Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral recently convened a town hall forum to discuss the growing crisis of teen truancy in Massachusetts.

Held at Roxbury Community College, the forum “Why Aren’t You In School?: A Community Response To Truancy” featured a panel of six experts, including: Sheriff of Berkshire County Carmen Massimiano, Jr.; State Representative of the 11th Suffolk District Liz Malia; Dr. Phillip Jackson, Director of Alternative Education for Boston Public Schools; Alan Khazei, Co–Founder and former CEO of City Year; Marvin Moore of the Boston Private Industry Council; and David Shapiro, CEO of the Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership.

With Sheriff Cabral acting as moderator for the discussion, panelists spoke before a crowd of over two–hundred people about many of the complex issues at the root of truancy, and each offered their views on some of the actions that can be taken to begin solving this epidemic.

“When you ask kids why they’re out of school, boredom is often used as an answer by kids who don’t know how to express themselves,” said Rep. Malia. “But we need to look deeper. There are some terrifying, heartbreaking situations these kids are up against. Some of them talk about how their parents fight at night, how they’re living in gang territory and it’s tough to walk to school, how they were raped and abused. They have a hard time expressing these things.”

Fellow panelists Moore and Shapiro agreed.

“When we attempt to engage the youth, we need to take a look back at their families, their living situations, their neighborhoods,” Moore said. “Do they feel safe in school? Is there danger along the way to school? We need to know these things and peer groups are necessary because there is sometimes a disconnect between adults and kids. They don’t know how to engage the youth from their perspective.”

“We need to have folks working at a system–wide level to connect the dots between the needed services,” said Shapiro. “We have kids with multiple risk factors for truancy and we need more school–based mentoring to recognize and act on some of these factors. And, often times we don’t stand with the kids. They need to know that someone is going to be there working on their behalf and that someone respects them and is going to be loyal.”

While acknowledging the need for increased services to invest in at–risk teens, Khazei spoke about the benefits of having teens invest in providing services to others.

“With City Year, we wanted to build a national model and engage youths in full–time community service,” said Khazei. “I think we need more programs like these, and like the AmeriCorps, where we have young people working with other young people. “We need to take service–learning programs and build them right into the curriculum of the classroom.”

Praising his colleagues and their respective programs, Jackson stressed the importance of continued collaboration.

“We have to keep building this bridge to success,” Jackson said. “It’s a collaborative effort that we need to continue taking, like that concept of the village. It takes each of us working toward the common goal. We also need more places like Sheriff Massimiano’s Juvenile Resource Center in Pittsfield – it’s a tremendous place for good.”

As the architect of that very center – which unites area public schools, mental health agencies, and other community–based organizations in an effort to provide a safe learning environment – Sheriff Massimiano made an impassioned call for residents to become more involved in the lives of their fellow citizens.

“It’s hard to teach a child when they’re cold, or when they’re hungry, or when they’re abused,” Massimiano said. “We need to explain to people that we are indeed our brother’s keeper. We are living in a time where there are selfish people who feel that they don’t have anything to do with the poor or dispossessed.”

“We need to invest in hope and aspiration,” continued Massimiano. “This can work, but we can’t do it on the cheap. We need to actually invest in these kids instead of the usual wink and nod that’s given when people talk about solutions.”

Drawing the forum to a close, Sheriff Cabral assigned the crowd a bit of homework designed to jumpstart the process.

“This is such an enormous opportunity to bring some resources to the table,” said Cabral. “There are some things that you can do right now to make a difference and become part of the solution. You can become a mentor. You can become a Big Brother or Big Sister. You can call your legislator and let them know that this is a subject that you are very passionate about. You can volunteer at a school and help tutor a child. You can get involved and stay involved. You heard it here – it is doable. We can make a difference, but you have to take action.”

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