The simple act of saying good morning to every student is an effective step toward  increasing attendance and ultimately reducing drop-out rates for at-risk schoolchildren.  It’s an approach used by City Year, a national nonprofit that places AmeriCorps members ages 17 to 24 in 160 high-need schools in 20 U.S. cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and Little Rock, and it is helping to keep kids in school and on track to graduate.

As part of City Year’s Attendance Initiative, each student is individually welcomed by corps members every morning as they arrive at school.  “We’re personalizing the school environment,” says Jeff Jablow, City Year’s vice president of strategy and operations.  “Students know that there is someone waiting to greet them by name every morning, who cares about them, and who will support them throughout the day.”

City Year’s work with 3rd through 9th graders is guided by a groundbreaking 2006 study from Johns Hopkins University that found that if 6th-grade students demonstrated “early warning indicators” – poor attendance, behavior issues, and low achievement in math and English coursework – their chances of graduating from high school plummeted to 25 percent.  City Year focuses its work on providing interventions to ensure students reach the 10th grade without exhibiting the “early warning indicators,” which increases their chances of graduating on time to 75 percent.

The City Year team of eight to 20 corps members works with school staff to bolster student support from the beginning of the school day, through classes and then through afterschool. Students benefit from near peer relationships with the City Year members, learning from the young adult tutors and mentors, while teachers and principals benefit from having a second team of adults in the classroom and throughout the school.

Those tutors receive extensive training in how to provide academic support to students as well. The Walmart Foundation awarded City Year $1.2 million earlier this year to establish a literacy training academy to give 2,000 City Year volunteers the skills and resources they need to help struggling readers. Once they complete the training, those tutors will work with more than 45,000 public school students to help them excel during the next school year.

The City Year strategy has yielded some promising trends.  Last year, more than half of the students who were below 90 percent in average daily attendance (ADA) in the fall, who received attendance coaching from City Year corps members, achieved over 90 percent ADA by the spring.  Similar results were seen among students with ADA less than 80 percent in the fall achieving ADA over 80 percent in the spring.

In the Diplomas Now collaboration with City Year, Communities In Schools and Talent Development, one year of intervention (2009 –2010) in participating Philadelphia middle schools achieved significant results:

  • 55 percent reduction in students with less than 80 percent attendance
  • 52 percent reduction in students receiving three or more citations for behavior
  • 78 percent reduction in students failing English
  • 82 percent reduction in students failing math

City Year corps members began the morning greeting two years ago.  As soon as a child is identified as being absent, the corps members get to work, making phone calls to find the student.  Beyond getting kids to school, the corps members also work with teachers to provide attendance and academic coaching and make sure that the students who are absent don’t fall behind. Corps members also call homes to  praise students’ performance,  as part of an effort to engage parents in their children’s education.  Other Attendance Initiative elements include identifying and working with students most at risk for absences and leading school-wide attendance incentive programs and recognition events.

City Year has set a challenge to expand its work to reach half of all the off-track students in the 20 cities where they operate.  To reach this milestone, City Year is working with schools, districts, elected officials, stakeholders and the private sector to increase the number of corps members from 1,700 to 6,000.

Revised June 2012