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Improving student attendance through student success coaching

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic linger for K12 education. Schools across the country continue to grapple with post-pandemic pain points and how best to support students, from improving academic performance to addressing increased mental health concerns.  Historic educational inequities have been exacerbated, with students of color and students living in lower-income households bearing disproportionate negative impacts of COVID. These challenges are both complex and complicated and require solutions that are systemic and coherent.

We and our partners have found an effective and cost-efficient solution we believe could benefit many more schools and students and help to increase student engagement and attendance—an approach that can help to address chronic absenteeism, which has emerged as a critical issue.

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City Year AmeriCorps members are student success coaches.

Chronic absenteeism is a critical issue in public education

U.S. Department of Education data shows that 29.7% of the K-12 student population were chronically absent during the 2021-22 school year, up significantly from 16% in 2019. Since the pandemic, the percentage of students missing about one month of school per year has doubled, according to research from Johns Hopkins University. Absenteeism data from the 2022-23 school year released by some states shows that chronic absence remains high, particularly for students experiencing homelessness, English Language Learners, and students living in poverty.

On May 15, the White House hosted the “Every Day Counts Summit: Addressing Chronic Absenteeism bringing together senior Administration officials, state leaders and local school district leaders. Participants discussed the importance of using student attendance data to identify at-risk students and focused on the power of connectedness and creating authentic relationships with students that foster trust, confidence, and a sense of belonging.

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 What does it mean to be a student success coach? City Year Los Angeles AmeriCorps members explain.

Research shows that student success coaching helps to improve student attendance

As we navigate this new era of public education, the use of student success coaches (SSCs) in schools is emerging as a highly effective solution for promoting greater student engagement, connectedness and attendance. This approach prioritizes building caring relationships, listening, and making young people feel heard and seen.

The student success coach model has its origins with City Year AmeriCorps members and is now being effectively implemented with the SSC Learning Network. This collaboration of eight community-based organizations in California over the past two years includes 1,000 AmeriCorps members reaching more than 70,000 students who otherwise would not have access to this support.

“Having student success coaches in classrooms and working with schools brings an extra set of hands and an extra person who can build a trusting relationship with a student and keep them connected to school and to their education,” said Dean of USC Rossier School of Education Pedro Noguera at an SSC Network convening. “This work is vital.”

SSCs, who are 17-25 years old, receive ongoing professional development and training, an AmeriCorps stipend and a Segal Education Award worth more than $7,000 for past or future study. They focus on the learning and well-being of the whole child. SSCs partner with classroom teachers to provide tutoring, skills coaching, and near-peer mentoring throughout the school day and in extended learning programs.  SSCs help strengthen academic performance and, just as important, give students social and emotional skill coaching that helps to create a welcoming, caring environment, one where students gain a sense of belonging and who they want to be – and that motivates them to want to come to school.

Principals are praising the work of student success coaches in their schools

One partner principal called student success coaching “a powerful part of our school programming. SSCs “develop strong professional relationships with the students,” they said, “and for some students, they are the reason that students come to school.”

Studies by the SSC Learning Network show that 50% of students served by student success coaches in California have a 90% or better attendance rate. At Mosaic Preparatory Academy in New York City, a community school, school officials told CBS News that they attribute an increase in attendance in large part to City Year’s student success coaches and the trusting, consistent relationships they build with students. In 2022-23, attendance at Mosaic increased to 85%, up from 75% the year before. State reading scores also jumped 18% over the same period, while math scores rose 9%.

A multi-year research study on student success coaching by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University found that students who worked with student success coaches demonstrated improved social, emotional and academic outcomes and that their attendance improved.

We believe that more than perhaps ever before, student success coaching is an integral component of a thriving school ecosystem. We believe that more schools and student-focused programming should be benefitting from this resource, which can be accessed through the National Partnership of Student Success.

At Ascot Avenue Elementary School in south-central Los Angeles, school principal Dr. Gustavo Ortiz-Escalante sees firsthand, every day, how student success coaching is motivating students to attend and to keep coming back to school. “Corps members counsel our students as big brothers and sisters, provide motivation, tutoring, and a listening ear. Our student success coaches are pillars who help build up our students and fuel their aspirations – they are helping us change the world, one at-risk student at a time.”

Jonathan Raymond is Senior Vice President, Education Policy and Systems Change, City Year, Inc., former Superintendent of Schools in Sacramento, California, and New Rochelle, NY., and author of Wildflowers: A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America.

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