Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dealing with Feelings of Inadequacy in the Truancy Court Program

Each week, law students involved in the University of Baltimore School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts Truancy Court Program (TCP) discuss at the weekly team meeting each of our TCP student’s cases and the deeper issues that students may be experiencing that result in truancy.  This past week one of my fellow law school classmates bravely expressed that he feels inadequate to help the TCP students.  We see these students once a week for an hour, and we talk about their goals, problems, and possible solutions, but is it helping?  My classmate’s comment struck me because it’s a feeling I have from time to time.  Some of the TCP students have issues that are hard to find solutions to, including illnesses in the family, poverty, and overcrowded houses.  In these situations, what can we as law students do?  One of my TCP student’s mothers was diagnosed with cancer, which required the student to miss school a few times last year.   Situations like that are problematic because there is no quick and easy solution.  Even with the “simpler” issues, such as being disruptive in class or poor grades, we direct the TCP students to coach classes and encourage them to get help.  Nonetheless, there is always the lingering feeling that the work we do for the TCP students is not helping them.

I find myself not only wanting the TCP students to end their truant behavior, but I also want them to become scholars and leaders in their community--especially with the group of TCP students I have at Reginald F. Lewis High School.  I see so much potential in these students and would love to see them achieve their short-term and long-term goals.  Realistically, however, I understand that the students face so many hurdles, some of which are beyond the reach of my ability to assist.   It’s a good feeling when we see the TCP students absorbing what we say in our one-on-one meetings at the TCP sessions, but I struggle with the thought, what happens when we leave?

In response to my classmate’s comment in our meeting, one of the TCP staff members simply stated, “We help the students more than we know.”  It is so easy to feel as though you are not doing enough because some of the tougher problems are not solved immediately.  I didn’t take time to consider, however, that my presence is helpful.  For some of these students, the TCP provides the support and attentiveness they do not receive anywhere else.  That statement put things in perspective for me.  Nothing great is achieved overnight, and you never know how your actions may be positively affecting another person.  Naturally, I still want the TCP students to end their truancy and achieve their goals, but I understand that things take time and that my help is not in vain.  I look forward to continuing my work with the TCP because it is a huge step in the right direction for the students involved.


  1. Samantha SammartanoOctober 21, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    I totally agree with that feeling of helplessness. I would definitely like to know what happens with these kids after the program is over. What is the likelihood they end up in the program again? How many of them graduate high school? Granted, I think this is a glass half full/glass half empty situation. I simply wish I had more time with them to just talk to them one on one. But our sessions seem so rushed because the kids need to get back to class. I don't know that my feelings of inadequacy are not so much with the program, but more because the school system needs extreme fixing before each individual kid could possibly succeed. It is frustrating seeing people trying to take steps to fix issues as they arise, when big issues should be fixed from the ground up. It is even more frustrating when attempts at fixing issues are seemingly negated by the school system. Some of these issues are ones I cannot manage to wrap my head around. I stand by the fact that it is completely asinine to knowingly allow a teacher assigned to teach a geometry class teach an algebra curriculum. This could be a very simple fix, but don't just offer geometry as a course for the sake of creating the guise that you are meeting requirements. I'm trying to teach these kids about some obtuse triangles and the Pythagorean theorem.

  2. Brittany StrickalndOctober 21, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    I find myself returning to the comment made about how you, Ms. Ward, see the potential of the students you work with during the Truancy Court Program (TCP). You not only want their truant behavior to abate, but you also desire for student’s to meet their short and long term goals in an environment that sometimes sets them up for just the opposite. To me, these comments stand out because it shows you are invested in the success of these students. Granted, your time together is short, the problems the TCP team tackles are overwhelming and intricately layered, and you will most likely never know the depth of the impression on these students. But—despite all of this, these students have made an impact on you.

    In your career as an attorney, judge, advocate, policy maker, or in whatever capacity you use your law degree, my guess is that your experience with the TCP will stay with you. You might ask yourself if education is a priority before casting a vote for a particular candidate in the next round of elections. When you represent your first juvenile client, you might be more aware of underlying problems your client faces outside of your office. If you work on policy, you may be more mindful of how the definitions and rules you draft affect the day to day lives of the people expected to abide by them. If you ever have to make a tough decision from the bench, your opinion may be colored by the issues you have encountered during your time with the TCP.

    I agree. As law students, it is frustrating to be exposed to crumbling, inefficient infrastructures, and to witness Baltimore City students struggle to navigate these broken systems. However, we will not be law students forever. Our legal education is a tool we can use to creatively address problematic issues, especially those we are invested in, and the TCP is the conduit that has made certain issues real and tangible for each of us that volunteer each week. What happens when we leave? I’d like to think we will consider our own short and long term goals, realizing that the TCP team and students have impacted us in a rather short span of time.

    1. Thank you for your comments Ms. Strickland! I completely agree, TCP has put so much in prospective for me in terms of how I use my law degree. We have all made an impact on the participants in the TCP program but like you mentioned, the program has also made an impact on us. To me, programs like TCP are what law school is all about.

  3. "Give it time." This is a quote that a member of the TCP team bestowed upon me as I voiced my frustrations over the helplessness I felt when advising truant students. A week has passed and those frustrations have turned from negative to positive. Unfortunately not every student will be helped by the TCP program, but the ones that succeed truly make all the difference. The success of TCP was very evident after only counseling a student for three sessions. Not only has the student's demeanor improved drastically, but his attendance has been prefect. Moreover, this student has now set career goals and is on the path to achieving them.

  4. I can also attest to the mixed emotions experienced while participating in the Truancy Court Program. I volunteered as a tutor my first semester in my first year of law school and I can honestly say that it was the highlight of my week. Not only was it a much needed escape from the pressures of law school but it allowed me be hands-on in the community. I agree with Ms. Ward even our consistent presence has a major impact. Students are able to see a familiar face and begin to confide in you and open up to you. You are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and encourage them. I would ask each student "What do you want to be when you get older?" and no matter the response I would let them know that they could be ANYTHING that they wanted to be! Sometimes this reassurance is all it takes.

    Although it may seem that each of us individually are endlessly chipping away at a never-ending glacier, I believe that we can all rest assured knowing that we as a collective are making a huge impact on the lives of children through the TCP Program.

  5. We must remember the environment that many of the TCP participants come from. The 'crumbling infrastructure' that does them a disservice doesn't end at the school walls. Whether its broken schools or broken homes, I think any feelings of inadequacy we might have pale in comparison to what the students go through, particularly when they are older and are more aware of their surroundings. Because that is the case, any impact we can have on them will be beneficial. It might be that we need to report a case to CPS or that a child needs further resources that we are unable to give them. Either way we can be a connection for that child and move the bar higher than it has been set. That bar is currently set so low that any improvement is positive. Hopefully, if a child sees that there are people invested in their success, they will be motivated to improve on their own when they go out into the world. Motivation is one of the most important things we can instill, because without it a child stuck in this system will succumb to its negative influences quickly.


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