Special to the Illinois Business Journal
EDWARDSVILLE – During the 2011– 2012 school year, more than 272,000 students in Illinois’ public schools were suspended. Another 2,400 students were expelled and more than 10,000 students were arrested by law enforcement officials.
Dr. Robert A. Daiber said the problem is not limited to troubled cities in Illinois.
“The problem exists right here in Madison County,” said the regional superintendent of schools. “Every one of the 13 public school districts in the county are forced to suspend or expel students. It’s a problem school administrators have to address on a daily basis.”
Daiber, Sheriff John D. Lakin and David A. Hylla, chief judge of the 3rd Judicial Circuit jointly announced a new project, “Give 30,” a mentoring program that addresses the issue of student suspensions and expulsions, and provides at-risk youth in Madison County with positive support.
“Give 30 is designed for students who have been identified by school officials as heading in a direction that could lead to an arrest by one of Sheriff Lakin’s deputies, a courtroom appearance before Judge Hylla, or at the very least suspension or expulsion from school,” Daiber said.
Daiber said the Regional Office of Education will solicit 100 civic leaders and interested individuals to become Give 30 mentors and spend 30 minutes a week talking with the student they will be mentoring.
“Give 30 is not an out-of-school mentoring program such as ‘Big Brothers/Big Sisters.’ Give 30 is an in-school program that is linked to the discipline of at-risk-youth. Mentors will meet with students in a controlled school enviroment to discuss issues the students are facing and provide guidance,” Daiber said. “It’s a program to get troubled kids back on the right path.”
Lakin said during his career in law enforcement it has been his experience that some youth reach a crossroads while they are in school.
“And it’s not just in high school. Even kids in junior high can be faced with a decision of doing what is right or what is wrong,” the sheriff said. “If for whatever reason they make the wrong decision, and follow that up with another bad decision, it can negatively impact the rest of their lives.”
It doesn’t have to, he said.
“Just because a kid makes the wrong decision doesn’t mean they can’t get back on the right path, and that’s where Give 30 comes in. If this program and being able to talk to a mentor can positively impact even one student it will be worthwhile, but I expect the program will actually benefit a significant number of our youth,” Lakin said.
Hylla said it is important members of the community do what they can to help troubled youth become contributing members of society.
“Unfortunately, many of the youth that are forced to appear in our courtrooms share a common denominator, they have received little, if any, adult guidance in their lives,” he said.
The students who are being suspended or expelled are the very students who should be kept within the school environment unless they impose a danger or threat to the school, Hylla said.
“It is in school where they receive some semblance of order, where they can obtain the necessary knowledge to make something of themselves,” Hylla said. “But that doesn’t mean they can be a disruptive presence that negatively impacts other students. The challenge of the Give 30 program and participating mentors is to encourage those students to re-engage in school. Expulsions and suspensions should only be a last resort to address these students.”
A new Illinois law stemming from Senate Bill 100 takes effect on Sept. 15 that prohibits public schools from using “zero tolerance” discipline that results in out-of-school suspensions or expulsions, unless required by law. The regional office will conduct a pilot review of in-school mentors this spring at the county’s alternative school in Troy.