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The Truant Story

Absentee students mean reduced funding for schools, so district staff is hitting the streets in an effort to prod the worst offenders back in line.


On the way back to Roosevelt, Velarde confided, "When I catch some of these kids at home, I threaten to track them, even to turn them over to the district attorney for prosecution.

"But hey, I don't have the time or resources to track them, and the process of prosecuting one of them is incredibly time-consuming and difficult," he said.

He uses the threats as a last resort. "Generally, I believe that students respond better to compassion than anger."

Herman Katz, a special education coordinator with 31 years teaching experience at Roosevelt, believes the key to Velarde's success is his warmth and familiarity with the neighborhoods that have been supplying the campus with students for generations.

"He's at home in this community," Katz said. "And kids like him, which is half the battle."

Edwin Delgado, 18, who should have graduated last year, would not argue with that. Sitting in the school counseling office, he said, "Mr. Velarde is cool. . . . He's gotten me back into classes I was kicked out of. I don't know what he said, but it worked.

"He also told me it's good to have fun, but there's got to be a limit on it, or something like that," he added. "He's someone you can talk to, someone you can feel confident about. He understands us."

Velarde cannot help but smile when he hears that kind of talk from students.

"What if 50 of our top students selected five students to support, and they in turn did the same thing and connected with five more, and five more, and five more?" he said. "The number of students impacted would be 6,250--that's everyone at this school. We could do it if we tried. Right?"

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