FORT WAYNE — Allen Superior Court has received more than $200,000 to support a program designed to keep at-risk youths in school and out of the criminal justice system.
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) recently awarded the grant to the Allen County Juvenile Center’s “Check and Connect” program, an effort to mentor students in grades K-12. The grant, totaling $217,333, came from ICJI’s Title II program, which supports programming meant to improve the delivery of services and the ability of the criminal justice system to serve all citizens.
“This is the largest grant we have ever received for Check and Connect,” said Judge Andrea R. Trevino, Supervising Judge of the ACJC. “This tells us something important: That the work Check and Connect accomplishes is important and impactful on the students we serve. It also gives us the encouragement our team needs to keep building on what Check and Connect has already accomplished.”
Check & Connect serves students who are at risk of dropping out of school. The program pairs students with trained mentors who both advocate for and challenge the student to make education a priority. Students are referred to Check & Connect by school officials when they show warning signs of disengaging from school, such as poor attendance, behavioral issues, and/or low grades.
Mentors monitor many aspects of a student’s performance, such as absences, tardies, behavioral referrals and grades. Mentors work with students for at least two years, providing help with problem solving and skill-building, as well as serving as liaisons between home and school.
Check and Connect will use the new grant funds to help pay for existing mentors and for new mentors to place in additional area schools. The program hopes to eventually be able to serve nearly 200 students. The program currently has mentors placed in Fort Wayne and East Allen Community Schools.
“There has never been a better time for Check and Connect,” added Jill Carboni, ACJC Education Director, who, along with other staff members, wrote the grant request under Judge Trevino’s supervision. “The issues facing kids right now are difficult to understand unless you’ve faced them. There are children in our community every day facing lack of food, lack of a parental presence at home – even homelessness. They deserve our help, and that’s what Check and Connect is here to do.”
Check and Connect, in addition to promoting school success and graduation, also keeps youths out of the criminal justice system by reducing truancies. School systems must file truancy affidavits against students who chronically miss school. The program, which has been in operation since 2014, hopes to reduce truancies in the schools it serves by 10 percent or more.
Mentors meet with students informally every day and have a more formal meet-up once a week, with the goal of meeting 100 times during the school year. Mentors communicate with school staff and the students’ families to make sure they have the resources at home and school that need in order to succeed.
Check and Connect was developed by the University of Minnesota in the 1990s with the goal of:
* Decreasing truancy, tardiness, behavior referrals and dropout rates
* Increasing attendance, persistence in school, credits accrued and school completion
* Increasing literacy.