It’s more than a piece of paper.

The wise Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

This is why the Redwood County Attorney’s Office has partnered with all the schools in Redwood County, the Redwood County Restorative Justice Program, the Lower Sioux Indian Community and Southwest Health and Human Services to combat the devastating consequences of missing school through the Redwood County Truancy Diversion Program.

We kicked off the Truancy Diversion Program Jan. 1, 2019. It is a collaborative endeavor designed to address whatever underlying issues may be getting in the way of a child’s attendance at school.

Each month we host a large group meeting with parents, students and local service providers to discuss the ramifications of missing school. Those range from court appearances, foster care placements, group home placements, warrants for arrest and criminal charges. We, then, go over each students attendance record and complete an attendance contract.

Each of the service providers present are also available to offer any services parents, students or the family might need to correct the failing attendance.

Without a high school diploma you lose the chance for educational achievement and related life opportunities. The social and economic costs of dropping out has significant lifelong disadvantages across the board, including lower earning power and job opportunities, unemployment, incarceration and government assistance. The Center for Labor Market Studies estimates high-school dropouts earn $400,000 less than high school graduates across their working lives.

If that doesn’t resonate with you, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections report from Jan. 1, 2019, only 28.2 percent of the approximately 9,500 inmates currently incarcerated in Minnesota have their high school diploma.

Facts don’t lie.

These statistics are proof a high-school diploma is not just a piece of paper to hang on the wall or put in your scrapbook. It’s a gateway to your future.

I leave you with this plea:

Parents - Make your child’s education a priority. When they see you value and promote their education, they in turn will be inspired to engage. Don’t let your child fall into the school to prison pipeline.

Kids – take pride in your education. Believe you can achieve anything. Parents and students, if you are struggling say something. Reach out to your teachers or school administrators, reach out to human services, to Lower Sioux social services, to the Redwood County Restorative Justice program, law enforcement or to the truancy diversion program. Don’t struggle alone – we are here to help.

Our goal through this program and as a community is to give you every opportunity to make your future a successful one.

– Jenna Peterson serves as the Redwood County attorney