During a parent meeting on attendance, parents shared thoughts including, “I want my son to be a doctor. I want to make sure that my daughter goes to college.’” During the session, the school affirmed for parents the message “How do you get them there? They have to show up to school first.” – Yolanda Eddins, Director of Community and Parent Affairs, New Paradigm Loving Academy
In the fall of 2020, Attendance Works and Every School Day Counts Detroit conducted interviews with school leaders from five public charter schools in Detroit to document their efforts to sustain school attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic. The schools were chosen from the 28 public charters the two groups worked with for three years (2018-2021) to improve student attendance and engagement.
The effort to turn around attendance wasn’t short-term or uncomplicated; school chronic absence levels were frequently as high as 21%, and one school had a rate of 52%. The profiled schools represent a range of grade levels with large numbers of kids that fall into the student groups typically experiencing high levels of chronic absence in the U.S.
All of the five profiled schools had early signs of success in adopting effective attendance strategies. How did they accomplish this? Through a peer learning model led by Attendance Works, attendance teams from each school were equipped with national and local attendance tools, resources and best practice. In addition, each profiled school employed a combination of strong leadership, a student-family focus, and a commitment to getting every student to school (in-person and virtual) and implementing attendance frameworks, tools and best practices.
Despite the stress, anxiety and challenges school staff faced during the pandemic, they went above and beyond to connect with all students to address barriers to attendance and to sustain student participation. School leaders invested more in their staff, specifically in teachers.
Below are short paragraphs taken from each of the profiled schools. Click on the bolded name of each school to view the full profile.
Yolanda Eddins, Director of Community and Parent Affairs, described a parent meeting addressing attendance: The defensive barriers with which parents arrived fell as the school staff presented them with a vision for winning in school and the role parents can play to help their students be successful. The parent meeting included giving parents the “chance to talk about… their desires and their hopes for their children,” said Eddins. … After the session, parents received a thank you card in the mail. Instead of being “called out,” parents were able to build relationships with other parents, creating “a social network of support” that they can trust even when they are at their most vulnerable.
The key is maintaining a positive school climate and culture whether teaching is in person or virtual. “If you [teachers] do nothing else, you need a relationship with your student because without that you can’t reach them,” Andrea Walley, the principal of César Chávez Academy Intermediate told school staff. “When we go through our classrooms, we look for what we call a four to one positive ratio. If they say something corrective or negative, then they have to use four positives to keep that climate in the classroom at a certain level. And that [concept] comes from our school-wide PBIS program.”
Using student-level data, school staff changed how they document, track and share information about student absences. They shifted their focus from the individual absence to monitoring for a sequence of absences and trends for a single student or groups of students, “We want to identify trends and reasons why [students are absent]. If we know that this child has missed so many days, what are the reasons, and what can we do to help? Or in Covid time, what can we recommend if we cannot help?” said Ana Maria Ulloa, co-founder and CEO of Escuela Avancemos.
During Attendance Works Peer Learning Network (PLN) sessions, Felicia Brimage, director of University Prep Art and Design Elementary School, (UPAD) and her team worked with the three-tiered support strategy to organize their attendance data and take action to create a school going mindset for all students and their families. During these planning sessions, UPAD staff agreed that if a child is out of school for more than two days, teachers would be the first person that a parent hears from. Social workers and school leaders joined with teachers to promote attendance, and the UPAD approach to reduce chronic absence fit into the three-tiered approach.
By providing a safe, structured, self-paced learning environment, and qualified, dedicated teachers, CHA Southwest helps students graduate high school and pursue higher learning. CHA curricula are available online to students, and they are able to work either from home or from school. Students can enroll and complete courses at their own pace, and do not have to wait until the end of the school year to go up a grade level. This instructional flexibility and support helped to sustain student engagement and attendance throughout the pandemic.
Christine Glasper, school counselor and assistant principal at CHA Southwest, hopes for citywide attendance messaging to expand the importance of school attendance for every student in the city. The more they hear the message that attendance is important “the more ingrained it gets,” said Glasper. She imagines promotions like mass media, YouTube commercials, billboards, pop ups on cell phones being a great way for students to hear the message.
Read a summary of the collaboration between Attendance Works and Every School Day Counts Detroit and the five case studies. This work has been made possible by support from The Skillman Foundation and United Way for Southeastern Michigan investments in education and increased school attendance for all children in Detroit.