The buzz on the school attendance initiative may come from the celebrity calls. But the hard work comes from a corps of Success Mentors working directly with students in New York City’s Every Student, Every Day pilot schools.
The mentors are each assigned 15 to 20 chronically absent students identified by the school’s principal and attendance team. If the students don’t turn up for school on a given day, the mentor gives them a call to find out where they are. If they are struggling with class work or social dynamics at schools, the mentor is there to help.
The first year of the mentorship program saw chronically absent students who received mentors attend a total of more than 7,000 additional days of school in the 2010-11 school year. In addition, students in the mentorship program were more likely to see improvements in attendance when compared to chronically absent students who were not in the program. (See details in this release). Data for the 2012-12 year shows that students with mentors have attended 11,800 more days than chronically absent students at similar schools. Students who had mentors last year saw their absenteeism rates fall by 25.3 percent for elementary school students, 16.4 percent for middle school students, and 2.8 percent for high school students, according to city data.
To test which model works best, schools used mentors from a variety of sources. Some used City Year’s young AmeriCorps workers, while other tapped the older retired professionals working through the ReServe program. Social work interns earn field credit for their work, and college student get course credit. Some schools started out using their own staff members, including guidance counselors, and some schools are using high school seniors to mentor chronically absent freshman – a model being piloted by the task force to help this program go to scale.
The results found that the age or source of the mentors didn’t matter as much as other factors:
- Mentors had access to attendance data for the students
- Mentors had a consistent, year-long relationship with students
- Mentors had a connection to the principal and school leadership
- Mentors and the schools celebrated attendance gains.
Other organizations working with the Task Force include: Citizens Schools, BuildOn, Partnership with Children, Counseling in Schools, Learning Leaders, Good Shepherd Services, The Leadership Program and SCAN. Graduate students come from the Hunter School of Social Work and Columbia School of Social Work, and undergraduates from Wagner College in Staten Island.
When organizations provide the mentors from within their ranks they are required to conduct an extensive screening and interview process with the mentors, since they will be working with children. On top of that, New York City handles fingerprinting and background checks. The mentors receive training and sign confidentiality agreements before working with the students. The mentors are expected to work a minimum of 15 hours a week and to attend the school’s weekly attendance team meetings to discuss students who need more support.
While the organizations supervise the mentors’ work and often provide minimal compensation, the school principal plays a critical role in providing leadership for the project. The principal must convey the importance of attendance and make it a priority schoolwide to help the mentors accomplish what is often difficult work. Family engagement is also a critical piece, and some mentors build relationships with family members.
Absenteeism “is not an issue that any school can handle on its own,” said Leslie Cornfeld, Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force. “It is a complex problem, with complex causes, requiring a comprehensive, multi-sector response. There is no 1-size-fits-all solution here.
“At the core of the Task Force’s approach is pulling in all essential stakeholders and building systemic collaboration, from new data sharing arrangements, new models for connecting schools and local resources, to multi-agency truancy centers, asthma campaigns, and creation of re-entry coaches to ease the transition back into school for returning chronically absent students.”