Once home to the lowest attendance rates in the district, Chapa Middle School in Kyle, Texas has seen a decrease in its chronic absenteeism rate under Principal Lisa Walls, this year’s recipient of the All In For Students administrator award. With the support of her Communities In Schools site coordinator, Lisa prioritized attendance. “We assigned mentors and had daily check-ins with the kids,” she says of her two-pronged strategy to tackle attendance head-on. Though her Family Recipe for Success events, Principal Walls also ensured that parents were engaged with the school, creating an atmosphere of safety and support for students. Communities In School of Central Texas and Principal Walls agree: when a student feel supported and safe throughout the school day, they are more likely to attend.
Studies show a student who is chronically absent every year from kindergarten through high school will miss more than six months of schooling, and absenteeism can begin as soon as a child starts school. Common reasons include transportation challenges, having to take care of an ailing family member or younger sibling, a lack of clean clothing, chronic health issues, and more.
But sometimes the problem lies not in getting students in the classroom, but in keeping them there.
“Students were being suspended left and right,” says Leyna Rozon, the Communities In Schools of Pennsylvania site coordinator and recipient of the 2018 All In For Students Awards. Jackson School in York County, PA, saw more than 700 out-of-school suspensions and over 300 in-school suspensions in one year when Leyna first arrived. Soon, she was leveraging small groups to get to the root of many of the issues her students faced, such as grief over a lost loved one, an incarcerated parent, bullying, or the challenges of English as a second language. Leyna facilitated exercises and conversations that sought to reduce aggression and increase self-esteem. As a result, Jackson’s total suspension rate decreased by over half. Because students were spending more time in the classroom, grades also increased across the board.
A recent five-year evaluation of the Communities In Schools model of Integrated Student Supports conducted by MDRC found that elementary school students’ attendance improved more in schools implementing the CIS model than it did in schools without CIS. There is no one solution for the problems as varied as the students who have them. But at the heart of every initiative is often a caring adult who take the time to find out why a student isn’t in class, then empowers the student to address their obstacle to attendance.
This is why Communities In Schools works with administrators like Lisa and places people like Leyna in schools to provide the support necessary to ensure students come to school, stay in school, and go on to a brighter future.
Read more about how CIS is combatting chronic absenteeism nationwide in the 2018 Community Matters Report.