3 young people, 3 updates

While analyzing data for a series on elementary school absenteeism, Tribune reporters also hit the streets, talking to young students at community centers, in schools and around kitchen tables. Across the state, they found families racked by intense poverty and children whose reasons for missing school went beyond the stereotypes. Here are updates on three young people profiled in the series:

Nicole Ledcke

Nicknamed "Mommy No. 2" by her family, Nicole "Nickii" Ledcke missed months of elementary school to care for younger siblings as her impoverished family moved from home to temporary home. Her father had been slain when Ledcke was a toddler, and her mother struggled with mental illness.

Last year the onetime honors student dropped out of a Chicago high school but vowed she would find a way to graduate. Three months ago she took a job as a minimum-wage clerk in a gas station fast-food restaurant. Ledcke, 19, said she plans to get her GED soon and still hopes to attend college.

Her current goals are "saving money, being stable and getting back to school. I want to get a career," Ledcke said.

Yajaira Rivera

A student with learning and emotional disabilities, Yajaira Rivera had lost more than a year of classroom days by seventh grade and was being pushed out of her Chicago public school by administrators as her failure deepened.

But Yajaira transferred to an alternative public middle school in the fall, and the 14-year-old eighth-grader recently earned B's. Her attendance, while improved, is still spotty.

"At first I didn't want to be there," Yajaira said of her new school. "But the teachers were nice. I've been doing all my work. I'm not going to say I'm perfect — I try to help."

Alejandro Frausto

Suffering from intense anxiety and isolation, Alejandro "Alex" Frausto missed months of school in the middle grades. He and his family were repeatedly visited last fall by a LaSalle County truancy caseworker. Finally a juvenile court judge ordered him to attend school or face detention.

The drastic intervention worked. The 13-year-old's attendance rate at his county alternative school shot up from 9 percent in the fall to 85 percent today.

"He's had very good attendance. Court, I think, did get him back to school," said caseworker Martha Small.

Said Alex's mother, Carmen Frausto: "He's really good. I'm really proud of him."

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