The Geneva City School District and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, together, are addressing the issue of truancy as a matter of public health.
“Graduation rates and truancy are not just school issues, but community issues,” says Susan McGowan, a social worker at Geneva middle and high schools.
In order to help confront truancy and its public health effects throughout the Geneva community, McGowan reached out to Katie Flowers, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. McGowan hoped to create a partnership between HWS and the school district to create a public health campaign focusing on truancy and staying in school.
“Studies have been done to correlate truancy and lack of school completion to higher rates of many other social ills including, poverty, unemployment, criminal activity/incarceration, and mental health/substance abuse issues,” McGowan explains. “Through that lens, thinking about these issues as public health issues is an easy extension.”
Discussions about the truancy issue led to finding ways to seek local solutions. McGowan proposed an internship that would allow one HWS student the opportunity to affect a community.
What started out as a part-time internship turned into an independent capstone course for Kathryn Pawlak ’13, a Spanish major and health professions minor. Pawlak is working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller, Health Professions Adviser Scott McPhail, Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories Susan Cushman, Assistant Professor of Media and Society Leah Shaffer, Flowers and McGowan, as well as the Geneva community in order to change the truancy epidemic and create local change.
“In some of my research papers I’ve explored some of the factors of truancy,” says Pawlak. “Some of the risk factors that attribute to truancy are family factors, school factors, economic factors, and health factors. The two biggest health-related factors of truancy are dental decay and asthma-related illness.”
According to McGowan, there is one clear-cut way to solve these issues. She argues that “public health problems need public health solutions.”
In collaboration with McGowan and the faculty counterparts, Pawlak has come up with a dynamic approach to addressing the issue. “Our plan is to have several types of advertisements. For instance, we plan on creating a YouTube video, advertisements targeted towards truant students, as well as advertisements targeted towards the parents of truant students,” Pawlak explains. The advertisements will be multi-modal and also multi-lingual, featuring phrases such as “School. Just go,” “Attendance gets A’s,” and “Write your future, play your future, draw your future, make your future.”
The print aspect of the campaign will feature posters printed and hung in and around the Geneva area. They will be located at the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva, the Geneva YMCA, the local teen center, the schools, and various medical offices.
McGowan says that a public health campaign that uses real-world advertising strategies is an untapped resource for the city schools regarding the issue. Public health campaigns address all types of community issues-health and vaccinations, drinking and driving, healthy eating, and substance abuse.
In moving forward, the project leaders of the truancy and school campaign plan to form focus groups with Geneva students to receive feedback on the project.
The photo above features Kathryn Pawlak ’13.