Community leaders need help to stem a rising tide of truancy and local schools.
And two former truants explained how intervention from caring counselors at their high school -- and the threat of criminal punishment --helped get them back in class.
Remijo Gomez cut all his classes, three or four times a week, at El Cajon Valley High School.
He blames a bad home life, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and smoking pot.
"And most of the time I would ditch to go smoke with them," he told NBC San Diego.
But Remijio is back in school now, thanks in part to the attention of a school counselor, and a short stint at Juvenile Hall.
"What I was doing wasn't going to get me anywhere in life," he says. "It was a hard hit when I was there (in Juvenile Hall)."
Today, a leadership group asked for help in keeping other truants off the street, by reporting them to the school district, or police.
"We're not asking you to you know, grab kids off the street," said Superior Court Judge Browder Willis, who works on truancy cases at the county's Juvenile Court. "We're asking you to make a phone call. We're asking you to tap your sisters and brothers on the shoulder and your cousins, and say, 'Hey, go to school.'"
The county is distributing posters and other information to encourage local residents to report truancy.
"I would definitely say if you're having problems, talk to some one, and I guarantee them 100 percent that you'll get help," says former truant Dafne Zurita, who, with help from her family and drop out prevention specialists in the Grossmont Union High School District, got back in school, graduated, and is now enjoying classes at California State University, in Chico.