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Posted September 9, 2014

Engaging the School Community to Decrease Truancy

Ventana Ranch uses a comprehensive approach.

Janitor Juan Alarcon, Counselor Erin Day-Chesley, Principal Vernadette Chavez and Assistant Principal Ja Donahoe

At Ventana Ranch Elementary School decreasing truancy and chronic absenteeism is everyone’s business.

“No one is left untouched…everyone is utilized,” Principal Vernadette Chavez said of truancy prevention.

Go here to get resources for addressing truancy.

Last year when a third grade boy was regularly absent, it was Juan Alarcon, the school janitor, who stepped up. Alarcon, who moonlights as a boxing coach, set the expectation that participation in boxing required good attendance. The student’s involvement resulted in a decrease in truancy, and having another caring adult in the student’s life further decreased additional risk factors, such as dropping out.

“If we hadn’t done something in elementary school, by high school this student would not be there,” Chavez said.

Creating a caring and accountable community at Ventana Ranch starts at the top. On any given day staff can see Chavez greeting children when they arrive at school and reminding them school is where they belong. She expects them to succeed and formally recognizes student improvements in four areas: academic and behavioral success, being on-task, being responsible, and being respectful.  

Ventana Ranch’s proactive approach to truancy consists of recording positive student behaviors on SOAR cards, which translate into recognition and prizes. Assistant Principal Ja Donahoe says these incentives help extrinsically and intrinsically: extrinsically, they help jump-start focus for students and staff and intrinsically give students a deeper sense of belonging.

The proactive approach extends to families and the surrounding community by challenging the notion that a stomachache warrants an excused absence. Instead, family members are encouraged to drop students off, allow staff to walk their children to class, and tell them, "Your friends and teacher are expecting you." Often the stomachache goes away

Announcements over the loud speaker, interactions on the playground, and saying "Goodbye, see you tomorrow" at the end of the day are other examples of how messages of belonging and accountability are part of the everyday routine. 

In addition to the proactive measures, Erin Day-Chelsey, school counselor, has conducted more than 400 truancy interventions with 230 families last year, helping Ventana Ranch achieve the largest point gain of any elementary school in the PED grading system, moving from a D to a B. This improvement is reflected in Day-Chesley’s comprehensive system for tracking attendance data, which shows a dramatic decrease in both excused and unexcused absences. 

But teachers, not a data system, are Day-Chesley’s first points of contact. Often, teachers have already made a call home before she intervenes at three unexcused absences or excessive excused absences.

When interventions do become necessary, they are carried out with care and direct families to resources in their community.  For instance, if a student has missed numerous days for an illness and has not seen a doctor, families are given a list of health care providers. Staff will ask what they can do to help and remind parents their child’s education is important to families and educators alike.

The communication with families over absences has also aided in instruction. In a case where a highly reserved student missed school, it was discovered it was for a tribal ceremonial dance.

The absence was recorded as excused, and the family was invited to share the meaning of the dance with the rest of the class, where they arrived in full regalia. The student, initially too shy to speak up, was outspoken and full of confidence as she shared her history and culture with her class.

This proactive, inquisitive and caring approach to addressing truancy extends to the larger community- and it goes both ways.

We are not an island over here,” Chavez said to the Ventana Ranch Neighborhood Association.  “This is your school. Come over and visit. We need your support. We need your help.” 





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