Truancy problem at Newark schools

- Thousands of children face serious challenges getting to school in Newark. It's often a choice between personal safety and education. And learning is losing out.  Nearly half of all students in the district have truancy problems.

Newark educators and leaders say they are making moves to deal with the chronic problem. This comes at a time when guidance counselors and staff have been cut.

Newark Board of Education Vice President Marques-Aquil Lewiss ays despite that, improvements can be made. He is on the new absenteeism committee.  He says the goal is that "by this time next year" that attendance it up.

The executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey says one of the group's recent studies found absenteeism affects even the youngest students. Losing out on education early can mean trouble later on.

"Parents told about unsafe neighborhoods, drugs being dealt on the corner, needles on the sidewalk.  If you're not comfortable sending your child off to school, especially a young child, on his own or her own," Cecilia Zalkind  says.

Zalkind said you can't blame parents for not trying because many are doing their best against a daunting wave of poverty and crime. Basic, safe transportation -- something other communities take for granted -- is a big problem.

Among the other half of high school students who are in class regularly, many like Malcom Marrerra, are determined to make it to college and beyond, no matter what.

"I'm really committed because my mom is a teacher, my aunt was a teacher and my grandma was a teacher, so education in my family is very important," Marrerra says.

Another issue contributing to absenteeism  is health issues. The Advocates for Children study found that 24 percent of elementary school kids suffer from asthma.

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