Geary County Schools hires additional staff to combat truancy, keep students in school

GEARY COUNTY, Kan. — With a goal of achieving a 95% attendance rate in mind and two new team members joining the Geary County Schools USD 475 family, the district is determined to keep students inside the classroom.

Marilu Avila and John Berrios-Gonzalez joined the district in August as the new role of truancy officers and being both military-affiliated and bilingual, they hope to appeal to all the diverse families in the district and help them achieve this attendance goal.

“We make sure that students are actually coming to school. We want to try to catch them before they’re officially truant,” Avila said. “We want to help families and let them know that we’re here for them and we’re trying to find solutions to make that possible. Our goal is to make sure that all students here in Geary County get the best education that they need.”

In collaboration with district staff of the 17 schools across the district, Avila and Berrios-Gonzalez identify students with multiple unexcused absences and work with their families to determine why that student may be missing school and what is needed for them to return to the classroom.

“Peer pressure, I think, is one of the biggest issues with the truancy. You’ve got a friend that says, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and skip school today.’ Mom and dad might not know that this kid is not going to school, so that’s why we want to get involved and let mom and dad know, ‘Hey, your son/your daughter hasn’t been in school for three days. That’s against state policy or state law,'” Berrios-Gonzalez said. “That’s why we want to get involved a lot harder than what it used to be because of that factor there. We believe that a lot of parents don’t know what’s going on with the kids when they go to school.”

Missing 10% or more of instructional days can translate into third-graders unable to master reading, sixth-graders failing subjects, and ninth-graders dropping out of high school, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. To ensure this doesn’t happen to Geary County Schools students, Avila and Berrios-Gonzalez work directly with families as a resource to support them and offer assistance.

“Don’t be afraid. We’re not here to make you feel bad, to be afraid of us, or anything. We’re here to help you, 100%,” Avila said. “It’s okay to ask for help, it doesn’t mean, if you ask for help, you’re a bad parent. Not at all. You’re actually a wonderful parent because you know that you need help and let us help you.”

Since joining the district only a month ago, Avila and Berrios-Gonzalez have seen a positive outcome in the attendance rates.

If you have a student or know of a student struggling with attendance, please contact Avila at mariluavila@usd475.org or Berrios-Gonzalez at johnberriosgo@usd475.org.

For media inquiries, please contact Lindley Lund, marketing and media specialist for Geary County Schools USD 475, at lindleylund@usd475.org.