Education Minister Zach Churchill is calling a $2-million two-year pilot project aimed at keeping kids in the classroom much more than simply a program to police errant children and drag them back into the classroom.
Fourteen "attendance support workers" will be hired by school boards to monitor kids who skip class, but Churchill said Thursday that calling them "truancy officers" would be a mischaracterization.
"In the past, where a truant officer would go out and drag somebody back by the ear into class, that is not at all what this program is about," he said.
Instead, according to Churchill, the support workers will be charged with finding out why the students were missing school and coming up with ways to ensure they return to class.
"Identifying the individual obstacles that those students face in attending school, whether it's anxiety, an issue at home … not having a pair of shoes, and helping them overcomes those obstacles," he said.
Figures supplied by the Department of Education show during the 2015-16 school year, about 27 per cent of students missed 16 days or more of class time. That year, there were 118,152 students in the public school system.
Churchill said the support workers will look to connect students who miss classes with the resources necessary to get them back on track. He said those resources could be community-based or governmental.
"Whether it's health or it's mental-health supports. Whether it's social support through community services or whether there's issues related to justice," he said.
Looking for solutions
Jennifer Bruce is a member of the province's Council to Improve Learning Conditions and a teacher at E.B. Chandler Junior High in Amherst.
She told the CBC's Maritime Noon Thursday that the staff should be hired in early 2018. They'll try to find out why specific students, who have already been identified, are missing classes.
"This person would contact home, they would be able to drive to homes, they would be able to locate families and students, and try to identify the reason they're not in class," she said. "Sometimes it's simple and sometimes it's complex."
The support worker would then try to solve that problem. Bruce said the simple problems can stem from difficult situations, like students not having enough food to eat for breakfast or lunch. In such cases, they could tell the families what food support is available at the school.
'Support the student and the family'
Other problems, usually found at the high school level, involve students who might not have an alarm clock to wake them up, or they need a drive to school.
More complex issues arise, too.
"Mental-health concerns, they may be experiencing violence in the home, anxiety, or they may be in extreme poverty and don't have the social network to help themselves," Bruce said.
The support worker would try to help solve some of those problems.
"The attendance support worker is there to support the student and the family," she said.