Positive Steps

  • Pathway to Change Area: Systems Measures of Progress
  • Outcome from the PSESD Pathway to Change: Capacity and resources to close racial equity gaps; implementation of racially equitable policies and practices
  • Indicator Name: Exclusionary discipline rates 
  • Indicator Description: High school students who experienced a long term or short-term out-of-school suspension or expulsion in the school year

Supporting Students Impacted by Truancy

When attendance for students is a problem, the effects can be extensive and enduring. Students with chronic truancy — missing 10 percent, or 17 days of a school year — are less likely to receive a high school diploma and eventually earn a living wage job. Truancy also predicts higher rates of violent behavior and involvement with the justice system. To identify and support students dealing with truancy through a comprehensive approach, Pierce County Juvenile Court, schools, parents, caregivers and other professionals refer students and their caring adults to the Positive Steps program.

Image of students side by side

The Positive Steps program is a coordinated approach to support students impacted by chronic truancy through a collaboration across community-based services that includes connections with social service agencies, targeted academic support and comprehensive family engagement. In the eyes of PSESD’s Dropout Prevention & Re-Engagement Director, Arthur Dennis, partnerships in both the community and in the school are absolutely essential to the outreach process.

“When Positive Steps is at its optimum, it is a cross-system collaboration between all providers that are touching students. Social welfare staff, probation officers, court personnel and especially schools and teachers, are in a collaborative relationship in terms of sharing information about the best fit for the Positive Steps program,” said Dennis. “You have a coalition of committed people involved in the Positive Steps framework who are identifying those students who truly need that support.” 

Building a Network of Student Support

Every student is different, but the goals of the Positive Steps program remain the same: support, encouragement and positive decision-making that starts with re-engagement in the right educational environment. Involvement with the Positive Steps program can be the difference-maker that prevents a student from missing the opportunity to graduate.

Pierce County Probation Officer, Joy Schaad, has seen that impact firsthand in her work with PSESD Early Warning Specialist, Debbi Reed. “Debbi has helped a multitude of students to re-engage with their schools. Once they see that adults can care and be supportive, she will refer them to community providers,” Schaad said. “This provides a successful transition to those services as opposed to just telling the students and family to go to the agency and apply for services.This approach has helped most of the students that I have referred to her re-engage in school and improve their attendance.”

When a network of committed partners across the community come together to lift up a struggling student, those relationships become a foundation for change. “In most cases, kids may need a positive adult in their life — that can be the Early Warning Specialist,” said Dennis. “In turn, that relationship can help the student have tremendous positive performances in school.”

Looking Ahead

As Positive Steps and program partners continue their work, there is an emphasis on figuring out ways to reach struggling students who might be overlooked by referrals from the school system. For the small percentage of students who receive a truancy petition, there are many more at-risk youth who might benefit from the intervention and sustained support provided by the Positive Steps program and its partners. Expanding outreach is especially critical when centering the work around closing racial equity gaps.

As a longtime partner in this work, Tara Rodriguez, a Supervisor at Pierce County Juvenile Justice court, believes that Positive Steps is up to the task.

“There’s nothing that [Positive Steps] is not willing to do. They are always assessing how we can all work together better to help families before they end up in a courtroom.”