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APS Students Discuss Attendance, Family Engagement

Posted September 27, 2023, 1:30 PM. Updated June 29, 2024, 1:57 PM.

High school students from across the district took part in the discussion as the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council kicked off a new year.

Attendance has been a nationwide problem for years, and it was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which  struck in 2020. Last week several Albuquerque Public Schools high school students offered their perspectives on what’s leading to absences and strategies that might help the district successfully intervene.

Those suggestions ranged from creating an environment that fosters a sense of belonging to offering rewards like food and gift cards for students who arrive on time and don’t miss school.

The discussion took place during the first meeting of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council on Thursday. SuperSAC has representation from every APS comprehensive high school and from two nontraditional schools. The group meets monthly, and the APS leadership team and members of the Board of Education routinely attend.

Superintendent Scott Elder stressed that SuperSAC’s input is taken very seriously.

“Last year we were in the process of creating a strategic plan for the next five years,” the superintendent said. “You guys had multiple opportunities to provide input into that strategic plan, and as you watch the plan rollout, many of you will say, ‘I know where that idea came from. I know why we’re focusing on that.’ Because you told us this was important, and your voice matters.”

For students new to SuperSAC, Elder provided an overview of the district’s new Emerging Stronger strategic plan and the district’s new five-year goals to raise literacy, improve math proficiency, boost post-secondary readiness, and increase the percentage of students demonstrating the skills, mindsets, and habits most aligned to life success. He also showed them a video of how it all works.

Students were then asked to break up into groups and provide suggestions on steps the district could take to improve attendance and boost family engagement.

One team taking up attendance suggested that teachers should routinely ask their students how they’re doing so they get a sense of what’s happening in their lives. The same team said teachers should be encouraged to create an environment where students feel safe forging connections with other students.

“If they have a community in that class, if they have friends in that class, they’re going to want to go,” the student representing the group said. But she also warned that trying to force students to go to class by being strict likely would not work.

“If people don’t want to go to class, they’re not going to go to class,” she said. “You can’t sit there and yell at them and force them to go to class if they already are in the mindset that they don’t want to go.”

Another team suggested setting up a rewards system for students with good attendance and those showing up on time, and a “consequence” system for those who aren’t. Beyond that, the team said, schools need to be engaging and they should build in free time for students to decompress.

The students taking up family engagement also had a number of ideas. One suggested school leaders across the district adopt her principal’s strategy of placing automated calls to all parents every Sunday outlining what’s going to be happening at the school that week. The group noted that parents don’t always check their email, “but everyone has a phone and everyone checks their phone.”

Another group suggested that each school host a family night. Many parents don’t know how to use ParentVUE and the other tools designed to keep them up to date on their child’s progress, and the parent night could be used to teach them, the students said.