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Published October 02, 2012, 11:35 PM

Family advocate helps teach teens the importance of staying in school

MOORHEAD – Marnie Sundeen’s passion is working with adolescents, especially troubled teens. “I love education and learning, but I also love teenagers,” said Sundeen of Moorhead, who has been a family advocate with The Village Family Service Center’s Truancy Intervention Program since March.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – Marnie Sundeen’s passion is working with adolescents, especially troubled teens.

“I love education and learning, but I also love teenagers,” said Sundeen of Moorhead, who has been a family advocate with The Village Family Service Center’s Truancy Intervention Program since March.

“They’re a handful and they can be a challenge, but I think that’s what I love most about them,” she said. “They’re at that age where they’re really defining the rest of their lives.”

Sundeen works with students at Moorhead High School as well as in the Hawley and Ulen-Hitterdal school districts.

The Village’s program provides truancy intervention services to Clay County students and their families to help decrease absences and court referrals and increase academic success, a news release stated.

The program targets students in kindergarten through 12th grade who have three or more unexcused absences.

Sundeen works with freshmen and sophomores and will contact the students, their parents and teachers to find out where a student was if he or she has too many unexcused absences.

Sometimes a student will go to school but won’t go to class. Sundeen becomes involved in those situations as well, she said.

She meets with some of the students weekly and gets to know them fairly well, she said.

Sundeen also does home visits to meet with a student’s family, and she’ll try to connect students with community resources like The Village or Youthworks, an alternative agency for youth and family services, in Fargo.

“Truancy can be caused by a lot of different reasons,” she said. “Every student is different in why they chose not to go to class, and my job is to help figure out why they’re not going.”

Sundeen often hears that students don’t like school, she said. But the deeper reasons might be things like a mental health issue, chemical dependency or difficult home environment, she said.

In a lot of cases, Sundeen, who is 24 years old, sees a little of herself in the students she helps, she said.

“My time as a teenager was not easy,” she said. “I didn’t have a perfect life. It was a struggle.”

She got past that difficult time, but she also remembers how hard it was.

“It would make me feel so honored to be a part of a person’s life at that time so they have somebody who understands,” she said.

Some students only need to be told once what the consequences of skipping school are, but for others, it’s a longer process, Sundeen said.

She said she feels proud of the students who make the right decisions, but even more, she hopes they feel proud of themselves.

“They made that choice, and I was only there to point them in the right direction,” she said.

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