By Bethiel Girma Holton, National Director of Student Engagement, City Year, Inc.
Attendance is crucial to positive long term outcomes for students and numerous studies have shown that 6th graders who are chronically absent have lower high school graduation rates. What does life look like for high school dropouts? They’re three times more likely than college graduates to be unemployed and eight times more likely than high school graduates to be in jail.
It’s probably obvious that students need to be present and engaged at school to learn, but regular attendance offers several additional benefits:
- Exposure to Language: School exposes children to language-rich environments they may not have at home.
- Positive peer relationships: When students are at school they are exposed to peer groups and learn important interpersonal and communication skills.
- Lifelong skills: Good attendance builds habits, essential for success in school and life.
- Engagement: Students have the opportunity to participate in non-academic activities such as sports, clubs, student leadership activities, music, etc. Positive classroom and school climate: When all students are present, they have the ability to impact classroom instruction and affect school climate.
So how can City Year corps members support students come to school every day to reap the benefits that school offers? In 2004, a report by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory found four key strategies for increasing student attendance. These strategies include schools creating sound attendance policies, providing early interventions especially to elementary aged students, targeted interventions for students with chronic attendance problems and increasing the engagement of students and families at school. City Year has developed our attendance support model for schools and students based on these strategies, and across the country you will find teams of corps members working hard to put them into action.
Creating a school culture of high attendance, where attendance is recognized and celebrated, is one strategy to engage students in thinking more critically about their individual and school-wide attendance. Corps members help to develop school-wide attendance initiatives that provide recognition for improved and excellent attendance. This may include data walls showcasing school, class and individual attendance, parties and special events or incentives, such as dances and special assemblies, to celebrate performance. Corps members also provide engagement and community building opportunities throughout the school day and afterschool- all of which help students feel supported, engaged and excited to come to school.
Parents are a critical component to student success at school. Each day corps members make phone calls home to students who are absent from school to encourage that student to come to school that day, and to come to school the next day as well. Often, corps members are speaking with parents and guardians who not only help us learn more about the reasons behind student absences but also use the time to work together to build strategies that will help their student attend school regularly.
For some students, coming to school isn’t as easy as setting an alarm and getting up in time to catch the bus. Many students, particularly those living in poverty, face systemic barriers that make going to school challenging. These include poor transportation options (including lack of safe walking options due to neighborhood violence), feeling unsafe at school, or responsibilities outside of school (jobs or caretaking for family members). Often times students struggling with these issues are chronically absent. Corps members meet weekly with those students to set attendance goals, troubleshoot potential challenges to coming to school, and problem solve for any issues they are facing. Because we know that students are more likely to remain and achieve in schools where people care about them* this intervention provides an opportunity for students to build a support system of adults and peers at school while helping them understand the importance of school to their lives, and develop key lifelong skills like responsible decision making, problem solving, goal setting and perseverance.
*Benard, 2004; Green, 1998; Steinberg & Allen, 2002; Wimberly, 2002