A comprehensive approach is more essential than ever for ensuring access to learning and addressing rising levels of chronic absence.
Maribel Childress, Superintendent with the Gravette School District (GSD) in Arkansas, realized that a multi-pronged approach would be needed to address attendance challenges during the pandemic. Childress first took steps district-wide to make sure school was a safe and healthy learning environment. Shen then introduced interventions at scale to ensure learning while at home while also supporting students to get back on track when they returned.
GSD is located in the far northwest corner of the state, and serves students in grades PreK-12. More than 50% of students are identified as low income; 84% are white, 7% Hispanic, 4% English Learners and 14% special education students. This year Gravette offers in-person learning in grades PreK-10. High schoolers in 11th and 12th grade may choose face-to-face onsite instruction, 100% virtual school or a hybrid model
The focus on keeping the school environment healthy raised two attendance issues: How to talk about attendance while recommending that students stay at home, and how to keep students learning while they were not in the classroom. “We needed to have conversations [internally] from a practice and a policy perspective about what we were going to do to around attendance that will also keep the kids safe,” Childress said.
To create trust within the community that school was a healthy environment, the district established cleaning schedules and hygiene protocols, then communicated with families that students should stay home when they are sick or have symptoms. (See a copy of Superintendent Childress’ note to families on slide 32 of our September 29, 2021 webinar presentation slides.)
To address students who are quarantining or home sick, the district used federal funds to hire a Director of Academic Success to support building administrators, teachers, students and families. The new director focused on providing each student had one to one technology, internet hotspots if needed, synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities, instructional videos and assignments posted to Google Classroom, as well as after school tutoring by teacher and by content.
If a returning student has fallen behind, teachers can refer them to the Director of Academic Success for “Quarantine Catch Up.” The new director assigns each student a staff person to help them get caught up. The program is working for most students, Childress said. For example, one student who had not done any work while out received one-on-one help and was able to get back on track.
At the start of the school year the district also focused on students in transition grades (kindergarten, sixth and ninth). Even before the pandemic, transitioning students typically experience higher levels of chronic absence. Early data from Connecticut show even higher levels of chronic absence during the transitional grades occurring during the pandemic. For PreK and kindergarten students, Childress’s team engaged with the families to remind them that lessons learned in kindergarten are the foundation for success all the way into high school and through graduation.
On the first day of high school the Director of Academic Support met individually with students going into ninth grade who were at risk of chronic absence in the eighth grade. “She let them know that failure was not an option, that disengagement was not an option. … That she was here and she was going to continue to watch them,” Childress said.
For more on how Gravette School District is addressing chronic absence during the pandemic, and more up to date chronic absence from Connecticut, view our September 29 webinar, Supported: Leveraging Attendance Data to Ensure Ongoing Success.
We’ve updated our Handouts for Families for fall 2021 with new translations!.