Pathways to Engagement: Covid-19 Recovery Through Attendance

Step 3: Craft Engagement Strategies

For each of the three phases of engagement — Nurture Belonging in School, Build Bridges to School, and Create Community at School — put in place a tiered approach. Attendance Works recommends a three-tiered approach that starts with foundational supports for the whole school, followed by prevention-oriented supports (Tier1), more personalized outreach (Tier 2) and intensive intervention (Tier 3).

The Three Tiers of Intervention
  • Foundational strategies are practices for the whole school that prevent student absenteeism by establishing a strong community, building relationships and ensuring effective communication.

  • Tier I strategies are aimed at encouraging better attendance for all students and at preventing absenteeism before it affects achievement.

  • Tier II interventions are designed to address barriers to attendance for students at greater risk of chronic absenteeism, such as those who missed 10% of the school year, the standard definition of chronic absenteeism. These students and families should receive personalized attention as part of the engagement strategy.

  • Tier III approaches provide intensive support to students missing the most school, often involving not just schools but other agencies such as health, housing and social services, and typically requiring case management customized to individual students’ challenges. Such students miss 20% or more of the school year.

Organizing by Phases

Since it is often helpful to lay out the work in alignment with the rhythm of the school calendar, we recommend structuring your multi-tiered engagement plans according to the three phases below. And while starting early is helpful for building trust and creating a less hectic implementation process, leaders should keep in mind that it is never too late to begin engaging students and youth.

Below is a description of each of the three phases of engagement, links to sample engagement activities and a template to guide your own work. Follow these tips as you work through each phase:

  • First, fill in the blank template for your school or district. This will help you and your team to articulate the overall approach you will use for all students while taking a multi-tiered approach for that phase. While filling in the blank template, consider if additional tailoring of your strategies is needed given the realities of different student groups.  
  • Next, complete the template for each priority student group to clarify how each level of a multi-tiered support system might be further adapted to reflect the group’s particular challenges, strengths and realities. For example, see the Bridges to School PreK, K handout.  

Three Phases of Engagement

Spring: Nurture Belonging in School

While this year has been challenging for participation and attendance, we also know that drops in attendance are common toward the end of every school year and in the last few weeks of school. The shift to warmer temperatures, anticipating summer vacation and increases in asthma, allergies or other health problems can make attendance plummet. In the 2020-21 school year, keeping students engaged is arguably harder than ever given the economic and health challenges related to Covid-19, fatigue from studying online, and the challenges of maintaining supervision at home for distance learning. When educators anticipate and plan for this likely drop in attendance they can stem the decline. Scheduling engaging activities, personally connecting with students and their families who have struggled with attendance, and working with families, school staff and providers to address barriers to attendance can help prevent more serious absence levels.

Spring is also a critical time for promoting enrollment by creating opportunities for prospective students and their families to learn about the school community and what it offers. Enrollment campaigns are even more critical this year during the pandemic given data suggesting that large numbers of families with young students delayed registering for kindergarten and many older students may have moved to new communities and schools.

Use our Belonging to School multi-tiered sample of activities for actions that your school or district can take to create a feeling of belonging in the spring for current and prospective students, and that encourage daily attendance until the last day of school. Use this Belonging to School template to create your own approach.

Summer: Build Bridges to School

The summer months provide school leaders with the opportunity to take stock of the prior school year and plan for the coming school year. Summer bridge activities can create opportunities for students to play and socialize with peers, engage in fun learning activities and practice the routine of showing up in person to a classroom. These experiences may be especially important for young students who have never been in a formal classroom setting. The summer is a good time to conduct personalized outreach and home visits to students — and their families — who were chronically absent during the 2020-21 school year, when educators can check in on their well-being and ensure they have the support they need to return to school.

Additionally, schools should consider implementing programming prior to the beginning of school to allow students and families to meet school staff, to share resources and ensure that they feel safe and supported prior to the first day of school. Our Building Bridges to School multi-tiered sample activities handout offers ideas and actions that your school or district can take to encourage a successful transition back to school. Or create your own plan with this Building Bridges to School blank template. For incoming preschool or kindergarten students, download our Bridges to School PreK, K handout with sample activities.

Fall: Create Community at School

A successful return to school is essential to recovering from this past year’s unsettling social and health-related experiences. The first weeks back to school are an important time to strengthen and forge relationships, to rebuild routines and rituals or make new ones to create your community at school. Working together, school leaders, educators and families can recover and thrive. Organizing mini-activities leading up to the first day of school, connecting with students and their families who struggled with attendance in the prior school year, and celebrating together are all ways in which we can rebound while using attendance and participation data to strengthen and ensure the success of the recovery process. Download our Create Community at School multi-tiered sample activities handout (forthcoming) with ideas and actions that your school or district can take to create community at school. Use the Create Community at School template (forthcoming) to create your own plan.

Find proven strategies appropriate for each of the three tiers in the Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absence in the Covid Era, developed by FutureEd in partnership with Attendance Works. Download the Attendance Works Guide to Using the Attendance Playbook, a companion to the Attendance Playbook.