Heath has met with officials from Allen County's four public school districts and court officials to plan implementation of what will begin as a small pilot program but which Heath hopes will eventually “become one of the most important programs in the country.”
Heath was scheduled to appear before County Council Thursday to outline the proposal and to seek permission to apply for grants to operate it.
Heath, who assumed jurisdiction of the Allen County Juvenile Center April 29th, had been researching the connection between truancy and crime when he came across the program. “I have found a number of scholarly research articles that have confirmed my deep suspicion that there is, indeed, a strong connection between truancy, disengagement from school by students and their ultimate participation in criminal activity,” Heath said in a statement.
An article by Dr. Ken Seeley, president of the National Center for School Engagement, reported that two-thirds of truant students will not graduate with their peers and will be charged with a criminal offense within two years of persistent truancy; that nearly 60 percent of juvenile crime occurs when children should have been in school; that truants were 12 times as likely to have committed a serious assault and 21 times as likely to have committed serious property crime as non-truants; and that 44 percent of incarcerated adults have no high school diploma.
Heath contacted Seeley, who told the judge about the Check and Connect program, in which mentors will serve as a student's case manager, tutor and friend, constantly “checking” on their behavior and school performance. Initially, the program will feature at least four paid part-time mentors who will work with as many as 25 at-risk students. Fort Wayne Community Schools and East Allen County Schools have agreed to participate in the program, which will begin in fall 2014.
Heath also plans to seek funding from local charitable organizations at a Jan. 15 luncheon hosted by the Fort Wayne Community Foundation.