Gary truancy program a win for parents, students
by Lori Caldwell email@example.com|648-3258 July 28, 2012 11:06PM
(l to r) Marvis Webb-Ross hugs Judge Pro-Tem Inga Lewis-Shannon during the awards celebration at the end of the Project Rebuild ceremony at the Gary Public Safety Building Tuesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:14AM
GARY — The name of the court’s truancy program isn’t the only change in the eight weeks since it began.
Truancy court, now Project Rebuild, launched in May as a trial run for students unable or unwilling to attend school. The volunteer program ended last week with a jubilant, emotional ceremony.
Teens who shuffled up the podium with slumped shoulders and mumbled responses on their first visit to Gary City Court strode with confidence along side their proud parents on Tuesday night.
Mothers initially reluctant to participate in an intensive program requiring them to attend classes and obtain counseling thanked the judge for giving them a chance to grow closer to their children.
And Judge Pro Tem Inga Lewis-Shannon, who spent most of that first session reprimanding recalcitrant students for their failing grades and rebellious attitudes lavished praise on mothers, fathers and 30 students who successfully completed the pilot program.
“You all deserve applause. I am so incredibly proud of you,” she said.
As each family unit took a turn at the podium, Shannon-Lewis issued a certificate to the students. Their final assignment was to write a letter about what they’d gleaned from the experience.
“I learned life is too short to mess around,” Montrell Webb-Ross, 17, wrote. “I’m going to keep my grades up so I can play football.”
His mother, Marvis Webb-Ross told the Post-Tribune she “had an attitude” when police summoned her to the first court session.
“I didn’t want to be here. It was like, if he got in trouble, why do I have to come here?” she said.
“But as I got into the class, it refreshed my mind about how to make things better,” Marvis Webb-Ross said.
One by one, the students presented letters promising to respect their parents, avoid trouble and work hard in classes.
“I learned I have to be a good girl so I can get a good job and take care of my mom and make her proud,” a teen wrote.
Her mother added, “I thank God for your vision. Our children need us. I thank God for his new start.”
Other parents applauded, and more than once, the judge wiped away a tear as she heard the youthful testimonials.
The program began after school administrators coordinated with police and court workers to identify students who had missed a significant number of school days. Families were notified of their status and invited to court.
In mid-May, parents arrived with their children and were asked to explain what caused the lapses in education.
Shannon-Lewis heard about students afraid to be in class and others who reacted to problems by fighting. Several responded with indifferent shrugs.
Organizers tailored programs for each family, connecting them with other agencies that could provide help. Parenting classes, parent-child projects and a trip to the Indiana State Prison were all designed to offer new ways of thinking.
Brenda Williams, mother of a 16-year-old girl, said she wasn’t at all enthusiastic.
“But as it went on, I saw how her education was a must,” Williams said.
One girl’s letter to her mother moved Lake Deputy Prosecutor Rosemary Lynch to distribute photocopies after the ceremony.
“I thank Judge Shannon and all the people of the program for believing in me and opening my eyes to a new beginning, a new me with boundless possibilities. Thank you for unlocking the keys to my success,” she wrote.
In the fall, Project Rebuild will begin in earnest for Gary Community School students in grades six through nine. It won’t be a volunteer program, and parents who fail to cooperate could face criminal charges.