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Saturday School Gives Class-Cutters a Lesson

January 15, 1989|ELIZABETH LU | Times Staff Writer

Eric Mitchell didn't sell any chocolate bars or booster pennants, but he recently made some money for his high school--by going to class on Saturday.

School on Saturday, an Arcadia High School program that requires truants to make up hours for missed classes, is designed to help the high school recoup state money lost when a student skips school.

Mitchell, 18, was in Saturday school because he had ditched classes one day to visit his girlfriend in Riverside. He worked on an English assignment, plowing through 200 pages of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms."

Based on Attendance

"I wish I had it during finals," Mitchell said of the mandatory four-hour study period.

For every Saturday class a student attends, the school receives $15.88 from the state, said Tom Payne, assistant principal in charge of student activities and attendance.

The amount of state money a school district receives is based on the schools' average daily attendance, or ADA.

In the 1988-89 school year, $22 million of the Arcadia Unified School District's $28-million budget will come from ADA, said C. Earl Davis, assistant superintendent in charge of business services.

During the first two months of the 1987-88 school year alone, truancy cost the high school $50,000 in state money, said Davis. During the same two-month period this school year, the loss was $30,000.

Last year's figure includes money lost due to unexcused absences in the days after the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake, Davis said.

School on Saturday programs have been adopted elsewhere, including Alta Loma High School, the El Rancho Unified School District and the Whittier Union High School District.

Tougher Policy

Arcadia instituted the program this school year as part of an effort to toughen its truancy policy and recoup state subsidies for attendance.

"Absenteeism was increasing; truancy was increasing," Payne said. "We could see a trend."

The program, started in October, is reserved for students who have missed at least a full day of school.

In theory, they must attend one Saturday school class for every day of school they missed, but Payne said no student has been asked to attend more than four consecutive Saturday sessions. Some truants have ditched a week or more of school, he said, and there are not enough Saturday sessions in the school year for all of them to catch up.

Saturday school classes are not held on holiday weekends or on days when college entrance examinations are scheduled.

The program, Payne added, isn't intended to "do the student in."

'Apache Lotto'

In addition to Saturday school, Arcadia High has started an "Apache Lotto" game in which students selected at random each week can win $5 or more if they did not miss class the two previous days.

If the winners did miss class, the money is rolled over to the following week's drawing, said Payne. So far, the largest jackpot was $15.

Money for the game comes from the student government.

In the past, truants were sent to Saturday Work Detail, where they joined students sent there for breaking school rules such as smoking or fighting. Students on work detail must do chores such as picking up trash on campus.

The number of students required to report for work detail hit a high of 120 on some Saturdays, said Payne. The school, which has 2,000 students, did not recover any state money by sending truants to work detail.

One recent Saturday, seven students dragged themselves out of bed early to attend the 8 a.m.-to-noon School on Saturday classes. Those who ditch Saturday school face suspension, said Payne.

"Somewhere down the road, they can be transferred to an alternative school," said Payne. "It's not in their best interest to be suspended."

The night before, a school employee telephoned each student's home to leave a message about the consequences of failing to attend.

For Mike Messina, 15, getting that call ended his technique of hanging up on the computerized telephone calls the school makes to possible truants. The calls, featuring Payne's voice, are made between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. after a student has missed three or more classes.

The computer makes 275 to 300 calls a day, Payne said. If anyone answers the phone, the computer registers "message received."

"I intercepted all the calls from the school," said Messina, a sophomore who recently ditched a week and a half of school. "I had it planned so perfect."

But the system caught up with him when the school employee made a live call.

At Saturday school a few weeks ago, Messina and six fellow truants, including Mitchell, sat quietly reading or doing homework. An adult proctor made sure they stayed. If students run out of homework, proctors give them work sheets covering subjects such as math or history.

"We haven't had to use (the work sheets) yet," said Michael Simuniello, a fourth-grade teacher who works as a proctor.

At the first Saturday school class Simuniello supervised, he found one of his former fourth-grade students on the roll.

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