How we welcome and support families is more important than ever this school year. As the pandemic continues to upend schooling and family lives, there are lessons learned from last year’s experiences that can guide our outreach. We’ve developed a short list of messaging priorities for communicating with families, and listed helpful resources that we have updated for school during Covid-19:
1. First and foremost when communicating with families this school year, the priority should be to reassure them that schools (and districts) are taking steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and making school a clean, safe and healthy place.
2. Encourage all families to keep their students healthy, and if they are unsure whether to send their child to school due to illness, including Covid-19, they should call the school to discuss the situation.
3. Take steps now to engage with families as partners in their child’s education, because this will make it easier to resolve attendance barriers and ensure students continue learning even if they must miss school, particularly if students must quarantine, or attend class online.
4. Whether students are attending school in person or online, let families know that your school staff is committed to learning. If one or a group of students has to quarantine, make sure a teacher or designated staff person will be in contact with a plan for learning at home.
5. Taking attendance daily and monitoring when students miss too much school is more essential than ever. Showing up does not guarantee learning, yet a student who misses class clearly cannot benefit from the instructional opportunity. Given the pandemic, we recommend that leaders expand the collection of student metrics in a way that paints a picture of whether children are benefitting from learning opportunities and ensures we can monitor daily attendance in distance as well as in person learning. Learn more about the five key metrics here.
6. Take a positive, problem-solving approach with families in addressing absences. Students miss school for various reasons—many reflecting challenges in the community or school. Some of our resources below, such as the Student Attendance Success Plans, will help educators to brainstorm with families and find ways to keep students attending and learning.
Over the past 18 months we have worked with partners and practitioners to update a number of resources for this year’s school year. The materials below include handouts and strategies for in-person (and some for remote) instruction, for preschool through high school. Click on the links below to find the resources.
Principal letter for 2021-22 – A principal’s leadership can assure families that your school is taking every step possible to create an environment where everyone can be safe, healthy and learning. Districts can help by filling in parts of the letter that provide more information about health and safety measures and procedures.
Welcome Letters for Back to School – Send a letter to welcome all families at the start of each school year, and also to first time students who enroll during the year.
Chronic Absence Letter – Many schools and districts are sending letters or emails home to alert parents and caregivers when a student is chronically absent. Download a sample template and tailor it for an individual student.
Handouts for Families for all grade levels – Parents want their children to do well in school but many don’t fully understand the connection between chronic absence and a student’s academic achievement. The new Get Ready for School flyer helps families with very young learners prepare for school. Most handouts are translated into in Chinese, (a few for elementary students in Creole), Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Student Attendance Success Plans – Designed for families – or older students – to plan ahead, keep track of attendance and set goals, with a yearly calendar.
My Family’s Help Bank – Encourage families to think about their back up plans for getting to school even when challenges come up.
Back-to-School Tour video – Cleveland Metropolitan School District in Ohio developed a short video explaining how things might be different when school reopens, showing how one district is using health and safety guidelines from the state, county and city as well as local hospitals to try and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Pathways to Engagement: A Toolkit for Covid-19 Recovery Through Attendance – Find a framework and downloadable tools and resources for creating a safe and positive climate, engaging with students and families, and if necessary, providing additional supports, especially those who have recently lost out on significant instructional opportunities.
Attendance Awareness Campaign video – Featuring our Executive Director Hedy Chang, this short video explains how schools and districts can rally their communities around addressing chronic absences and reviews the materials available on the Attendance Awareness Campaign website.
Keep in mind the federal Covid-19 relief funds can be used to support attendance and engagement activities. Learn more in our blog post.
This post was updated on October 13, 2021.