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Build it and They Will Come

February 11, 2017

The connection between school attendance and student success seems very simple – if students are at school, they will have better learning outcomes. Conversely, if students are chronically absent from our buildings, their success will be limited. Again, a simple correlation. However, so many schools across the country experience issues with chronic absenteeism. The question I have is why?

Context

As a Vice Principal in a large (for our community) High School, part of my responsibility is to manage issues around attendance. I use our data tracking tools, teacher, and parent feedback to look at attendance. When students are absent without some kind of excuse, we try to help get them back in the building. For some students, coming down to my office and having a chat about their unexcused absences is enough – they make the correction and attend their classes. For others, that is not the case. We do have students who would qualify as chronically absent. In the case of these students, we do have a variety of discipline measures we can employ to encourage them to come back to class.

The Human Touch

What I am finding, is that there are times when, even after using the variety of tools we have available, students continue to be chronically absent from school. As I stated above, I want to know why. Perhaps it has to do with the composition of our student body – we have a large number of ELL students and refugee students. However, the issues with chronic absenteeism stretches across all of our students and is not limited to one group.

Another possibility is a lack of meaningful connection between students and staff. A wide array of research suggests that the most resilient students have a connection with at least one, non parental adult in their life. I would argue our teachers do an excellent job of trying to make positive, meaningful relationships with their students. We utilize a teacher advisor model with our students where each student has a teacher that acts in a mentorship role with them.

I am certain there are other possible motives for students to not be in our building – lack of engagement in classrooms, historical patterns of absenteeism, etc. As such, it will take some time to look at all the reasons.

Earlier this week, I read about a program that has just begun in Rockyview School Division related to eliminating chronic absenteeism. The initial results of the program look very promising. I have made some arrangements to speak with the directors of the project to learn more. One thing I do know about the project is they began to utilize a personalized approach to help students get back to classes. This is done through individual, personal calls home, not through the use of a robo-dialer. In addition, the efforts of the project seem to be on a community scale. I guess the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” rings true.

Next Steps

For me, the next steps are many. I am going to speak to the directors of the program in Rockyview to learn how it is set up and find out whether it can be brought to our division. In addition, we need to gain a better understanding of why our students make the choice not to come to school.

My motivation for looking into this is simple – I want the students in my school to succeed to the best of their ability. I want to ensure we provide them with the opportunity to do so. If there are changes we can make to encourage our students to come to school more often, I believe we have the obligation to make those changes.

Should you have any insights into how to help eliminate, or at least reduce, chronic absenteeism, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Have a great day!

Sean

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