The Pascua Yaqui Tribe's Attendance Achievement Program is a court diversion program that strives to improve school attendance rates among Pascua Yaqui students and reduce future instances of truancy. The program is administered by the tribal prosecutor’s office, tribal education department, and tribal court in collaboration with the Tucson Unified School District and a number of tribal service providers. Program staff work with each participating family to identify the underlying causes of truancy, develop an individualized plan to address their child’s unique needs, and engage parents in comprehensive support services.
Attendance Achievement Program
Program Running Length: 2012 - Present
Location: The Pascua Yaqui Tribe is headquartered on the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation in Tucson, Arizona. The reservation is known as “New Pascua,” a reflection of the fact that the tribe has several other communities throughout southern Arizona, many of which are older than the reservation itself. These communities include Old Pascua (also in Tucson), Barrio Libre (in the City of South Tucson), Marana (northwest of Tucson), and Guadalupe (southeast of Phoenix).
Land Characteristics: The Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation is a desert community. The reservation is located in the southwestern part of the Tucson metropolitan area and is adjacent to the San Xavier Indian Reservation, part of the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Population: As of 2015, there were 18,859 enrolled Pascua Yaqui Tribe members, according to official records from the tribe’s enrollment department. In the 2010 U.S. Census, the reservation had a resident population of 3,484 persons, over 90 percent of whom are Native Americans.
Problem to Be Addressed
Most Pascua Yaqui youth attend schools in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). Within TUSD, Native American students—including Pascua Yaqui students—have historically had lower attendance rates than students of any other racial or ethnic group. A 2012 justice system assessment conducted by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe identified truancy as a leading challenge for the tribe. Existing interventions were not successfully reducing the truancy rate, and student performance was suffering.
Moreover, the tribe’s truancy citation process was lengthy and inconsistent. Court dates were often scheduled months after an initial citation was issued, meaning that the school year was sometimes over by the time the case made it to court. In addition, TUSD staff were often reluctant to become involved in the tribal court process. Frequently, school representatives would miss court, making it difficult to resolve cases.
In addition to impacting educational outcomes, truancy has been identified in many tribal communities as a precursor to more serious problems like substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, and school dropout. Likewise, truancy is often an indicator of underlying troubles in a child’s home life.
The Attendance Achievement Plan targets Pascua Yaqui youth, regardless of age, who have received a truancy citation in tribal court.
Planning for the Attendance Achievement Program began in 2012 following a comprehensive assessment of the tribal justice system that identified truancy as a leading challenge for the tribe. The planning team included representatives from the Yaqui Education Services, the tribe’s school resource officer, and the tribal prosecutor’s office.
This team mapped the existing truancy citation process to better understand the challenges and opportunities for improvement. The team then engaged tribal stakeholders in discussions about the factors contributing to truancy and the kinds of interventions needed to improve school attendance. The planning team also researched successful truancy intervention models in efforts to design an evidence-based approach that would build on the community’s strengths.
As a result of these efforts, the tribe decided to adapt the Attendance Achievement Program model, first developed by the Center for Court Innovation. This approach would feature a court diversion program for truant youth and their families and a set of revisions to the tribal code to support the new program.
Program Goals and Objectives
The Attendance Achievement Program aims to improve attendance rates among Pascua Yaqui students and reduce instances of truancy citations. The program strives to develop intervention strategies that are grounded in a solid understanding of the underlying causes of truancy, individualized to meet the needs of each student, and engage families in a comprehensive range of supportive services.
The Attendance Achievement Program is a court diversion program for families facing truancy citations in Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court. Upon entry into the program, the family completes an intake process with project staff from the prosecutor’s office, Yaqui Education Services, and Sewa Uusim (tribal family services agency).
Together, project staff and the family work together to develop an individualized Achievement Plan, which sets achievable goals and links the family with an array of services designed to support regular attendance. Services may include educational workshops, mentoring, tutoring and other academic supports, counseling, parenting skills classes, and tangible supports like alarm clocks, school supplies, and other items.
The Achievement Plan is followed by weekly case management meetings with the family. Family involvement for 6-9 months is encouraged to sustain lasting changes that lead to improved school attendance. As the family progresses in the program, the frequency of case management meetings may be decreased. The program also offers families incentives, like movie tickets, for a month of perfect attendance.
The Attendance Achievement Program is an inter-departmental collaboration involving the tribal prosecutor’s office, Yaqui Education Services, Sewa Uusim, and the schools Yaqui students attend including Tucson Unified School District and Hiaki High School. Each of these partner agencies has assigned representatives to this project, and these representatives work collaboratively to support the participating families.
Case Flow Process
The Attendance Achievement Program is open to enrolled Pascua Yaqui youth or youth of Pascua Yaqui heritage (at least one parent enrolled) who live on the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation. Participating families must have an open truancy citation in tribal court or have been found guilty in tribal court of failing to send a child to school. The program accepts youth from a number of schools. Most are enrolled in the Tucson Unified School District, although a small number come from a charter school located on the reservation. A recent program review revealed active participants from eight separate schools. The youngest participant was in first grade, while the oldest students were in twelfth grade or GED programs.
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe employs a school resource officer who actively monitors attendance and school performance of Pascua Yaqui students enrolled in the Tucson Unified School District. The district notifies the school resource officer when a student has three unexcused absences. Although intervention is not strictly required, the school resource officer typically issues a citation to the student’s parents (or files a long form complaint in tribal court in cases involving older students).
The tribal prosecutor’s office reviews all truancy citations and complaints to determine eligibility for the Attendance Achievement Program. Eligible students and families are offered the opportunity to participate in the program. Those who agree to enter the program must plead guilty to the charge. The plea is vacated and the charge is dismissed upon successful completion of the program.
After entering a guilty plea, the family has 48 hours to set up an intake appointment with the program coordinator at the prosecutor’s office. The intake process differs depending on the student’s grade. For high school students, separate intakes are conducted with the student and his or her parents. For younger students, a single intake appointment is conducted with the student and parents together. Intake appointments involve the prosecutor’s program coordinator and representatives from Yaqui Education Services and Sewa Uusim. The participants sign a release of information form at the intake appointment.
After the intake meeting, the family meets again with program staff within a week to discuss the student’s Achievement Plan. This plan might be revised as appropriate for each family’s specific circumstances. Sometimes parents add items to the Achievement Plan. After the parents agree to the Achievement Plan, the family is given a monthly calendar outlining the program’s expectations.
Supervision and Compliance
Each participating family is assigned a case manager from Yaqui Education Services who is responsible for monitoring the family’s progress and providing the prosecutor’s office with progress reports at monthly staffing meetings. The reports detail the family’s progress toward the Achievement Plan, the student’s attendance in school, and other relevant information. If the report indicates significant noncompliance, the case is placed back on the court calendar, and the participant is required to come to court and explain why they have not been following the Achievement Plan.
Repeated noncompliance with the Achievement Plan, including nonattendance at school results in termination from the program and imposition of the sentence stipulated in the original plea agreement. A typical sentence may include a fine up to $500 and up to 20 hours of community service, both of which are the responsibility of the parents. Parents are of course still required to send their children to school after program termination.
PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION
The Attendance Achievement Program was originally established with funding from a Tribal Youth Program grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This funding expired in 2013, and the program has since been sustained with tribal funding. The tribe continues to seek additional outside funding to support this program. In addition to staffing costs, funding is needed to help participating families with basic needs, like clothing and transportation, that can impact school attendance.
The Attendance Achievement Program grew out of a long-term technical assistance relationship between the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Center for Court Innovation. The Tribe engaged the Center in 2012 to assist with a comprehensive justice system assessment. This assessment identified truancy as a significant challenge facing the tribe. Pascua Yaqui officials quickly committed to addressing this challenge by developing a truancy intervention program. After exploring several approaches, the tribe decided to adapt the Attendance Achievement Program model that the Center for Court Innovation developed for use in New York City.
The Attendance Achievement Program is an inter-departmental collaboration involving the tribal prosecutor’s office, Yaqui Education Services, Sewa Uusim, and schools Yaqui students attend. Each of these partner agencies has assigned representatives to this project, and these representatives work collaboratively to support the participating families.
Factors Contributing to Success
Tribal officials attribute the success of the Attendance Achievement Program in large part to the thorough planning process that led to its creation, which included exploring different approaches and building strong support from the tribal council, tribal agencies, and other stakeholders.
One of the program’s ongoing challenges is getting parents into the program quickly. In many cases, several months pass before parents enter a guilty plea and undergo program intake. Project staff are continuing to work with the schools, tribal court, and other partners to significantly reduce the time to program enrollment.
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has also found that parenting skills are a major barrier to program success. Participants often need a strong parenting program to help them address issues of family dynamics and child discipline. Without such a program in place, it may be difficult for parents to address the underlying factors that contribute to truancy.
In addition, financial resources are needed to help families meet basic needs, such as buying school uniforms and school supplies, or even paying for household utilities. All of these expenses can impact a family’s willingness or ability to send their children to school. These expenses are currently covered by a variety of tribal departments, but meeting them is an ongoing challenge.
Tribal officials report that they have learned several important lessons since launching this program:
- Family engagement is a key to program success.
- It takes time to figure out what kind of approach will help each child let their guard down and open up about their nonattendance. Successful interventions have included the Boys & Girls Club and Sewa Uusim’s equine therapy program.
- The intake process is critical to engaging parents and explaining that the program should be seen as a positive form of support rather than a punishment.
- Training for staff is critical for program success.
Between June 2013 and September 2014, 111 cases were referred to the Attendance Achievement Program. Nearly all of these cases have involved citations of parents for failure to send their children to school. A total of 73 parents have entered plea agreements and been accepted into the program.
As of December 2014, only six of 73 total parents had been terminated from the program for failure to comply. Fifteen had successfully completed the program, and 43 cases were still active. The remainder of cases were terminated for reasons unrelated to program compliance (e.g., child no longer in parent’s custody).
The Attendance Achievement Program initially received some negative reactions from various tribal departments. There was a perception among some staff that the program was punitive in nature and that parents were being coerced into participating. Over time, many of these critics have come to see that the program is actually restorative in nature and serves as an alternative to the punitive court process. The tribal council has been supportive of the program from its earliest phases.
Parents who have gone through the program have consistently expressed support for it, and some have remained affiliated with it even after their case is over. These parents want to continue attending forums for parents and accessing educational opportunities. Some parents have reported that they use the program as a “bad cop” with their children—they tell their children, “I’m going to get in trouble if you don’t go to school.”
In July 2013, one of the first parents referred to the program was very upset at the intake appointment and spent the meeting yelling at program staff. Over time, however, the family’s case manager worked closely with the family, and the student improved his school performance. The student’s mom later told program staff that she realized that sending her son to school regularly made school easier for him and made him want to attend. The student received the “student of the month” award in December 2013! His parents brought the certificate to their next appointment and told program staff they never thought such a thing was possible. At the end of the program, the parents raved about the impact of the program and said they wished the program had been around for their older son.
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