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Posted September 10, 2013

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Building Relationships, Capacity with Families Reduces Chronic Truancy

Last year in APS, over 16,000 students were chronically truant. That level of absenteeism predicts poor academic performance as early as kindergarten and is a warning sign that a high school student will drop out.

Adapted from Bringing Attendance Home: Engaging Parents in Preventing Chronic Absence; Attendance Works, May 22, 2013

“Even though I went to college, I didn’t know that missing 18 days or just two days a month – even in kindergarten – could put my son behind academically,” said Olga Nunez, the mother of three children. As a result, “my kid was missing kindergarten and it was because of me!”

Thankfully, Nunez learned the facts about chronic absence and her son was able to catch up. “Now that I know, I make sure that the two younger ones don’t miss so many days. This can happen to anyone, and it’s a message we have to deliver to parents.”

Every year, as many as 7.5 million students nationwide are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason, excused or unexcused.  Last year in Albuquerque Public Schools over 16,000 students were chronically truant. That level of absenteeism predicts poor academic performance as early as kindergarten and is a warning sign that a high school student will drop out.

The good news is that chronic absence can be reduced when schools work with families and communities to debunk common myths about attendance, build a culture of going to school or preschool every day and address barriers to getting to class. Parents and families are essential partners in promoting good attendance because they, ultimately, have the bottom-line responsibility for making sure their children get to school every day.

Parents and other family members need to be equipped with the right information so they are not unwittingly falling into traps created by common and pervasive myths about attendance. For example, many of us view good attendance as a matter of complying with rules. We don’t recognize that good attendance is really a matter of providing children more and better opportunities to learn. We think that missing school is a problem only if a child was skipping school without permission. We don’t see that too many absences, even if they are excused, can hinder learning. In fact, just two or three absence a month can add up to too much lost time in the classroom. While some absences, especially those due to illness, may be unavoidable, it is important to get children to school as often as possible.

Another myth is that attendance matters mostly for older students in middle or high school. We don’t recognize the adverse impact that poor attendance can have on learning as early as preschool or the importance of building a habit of good attendance from the beginning. Too few families or community members are aware of these realities.

Beyond their role in delivering children to school, families play an essential role in identifying, in any particular school or community, what the barriers are to attendance, as well as what would motivate students to go to school. The insights of families – combined with local data and the perspectives of educators and service providers – can help determine what needs to change to ensure all students are present and engaged in learning at school or preschool.

Parents are also key advocates for change when chronic absence is affecting too many students at their child’s school. If high levels of chronic absence reflect systemic challenges – such as an unsafe school climate, high teacher turnover or absenteeism, or a lack of engaging instruction – parents should hold the school and district accountable for addressing these issues. If chronic absence is related to community challenges, such as the lack of a safe path to school or limited access to health resources, parents can play a role in developing solutions and advocating for community resources.  Uncovering these kinds of barriers and partnering with families and community members to overcome them are anticipated outcomes of the Truancy Prevention/Intervention Pilot being rolled out this year in 16 APS schools.

At every level, parent and family engagement is a key component of effective, comprehensive approaches to reducing chronic absence. All of us – schools, preschools, community agencies and parents themselves can make a difference by engaging and helping families to nurture a habit of regular attendance so they can help their children realize their hopes and dreams.

What Can Parent/Guardians Do to Keep Their Child on Track?

(Source: Attendance Works, Advancing Student Success by Reducing Chronic Absences – www.attendanceworks.org).

Elementary School Parent/Guardians Can

  • Set a regular bed time and morning routine
  • Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before
  • Find out what day school starts and make sure your child has the required shots
  • Introduce your child to her teachers and classmates before school starts to help her transition
  • Don’t let your child stay home unless she is truly sick. Keep in mind complaints of a stomach ache or headache can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to stay home
  • If your child seems anxious about going to school, talk to teachers, school counselors, or other parents for advice on how to make her feel comfortable and excited about learning
  • Develop back-up plans for getting to school if something comes up. Call on a family member, a neighbor, or another parent
  • Avoid medical appointments and extended trips when school is in session.

Middle and High School Parent/Guardians Can

  • Talk about the importance of showing up to school every day, make that the expectation
  • Help your child maintain daily routines, such as finishing homework and getting a good night’s sleep
  • Try not to schedule dental and medical appointments during the school day
  • Don’t let your child stay home unless truly sick. Complaints of headaches or stomach aches may be signs of anxiety.
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