A while back, Travis Smith of Wood County got a phone call from a former student. The student had tracked down Smith's phone number through a mutual acquaintance on Facebook.
"He asked if I remembered him," recalled Smith, one of Wood County's student support specialists, social workers who help students solve problems that interfere with school.
"Yeah," Smith said. "I remembered him."
When Smith knew him, the student had missed 70 days in one school year. His last year at Edison Junior High was a loss academically, but Smith worked with him and his mom. The student improved a little that year, and even more the next.
But what the man called to say was that Smith had set him in the process of realizing the importance of school.
"Back then I would use examples of older kids he would know," Smith recalled. Smith pointed out older dropouts, hanging around, idle. "Does he have a job?" Smith would ask. "Did he finish school?"
This kid wanted to better himself, Smith said. The student ended up moving away to a new school, a fresh start, without the baggage. He graduated from high school and went to Marshall University.
"He failed out the first semester, but he went back," Smith said. When the student called his old counselor, almost 10 years after Smith first met him as a truant middle-schooler, he was about to graduate from college, and he had a job lined up.
Smith started working with Wood County students who missed too much school way back in 2000. He was part of the original Truancy Diversion Social Work Program run by Children's Home Society and funded by the state with federal money. Social workers fanned out across the state, found absent kids and helped families sort out problems that interfered with school. They got students back to class.
The state cut the program despite its success, but Wood County has kept a vestige of it in some form ever since. Smith worked a couple different jobs in the meantime. Last year, he returned to working with truant kids.