New Orleans taps community groups to boost attendance

New Orleans taps community groups to boost attendance

(La.) Community members, area business leaders, local non-profits and district officials are coming together to address truancy and chronic absenteeism issues within New Orleans public schools.

As part of the “Keeping Kids in School” initiative, members of the community may volunteer to mentor chronically absent students, or provide students with incentives to boost their attendance in order to help curb high absenteeism rates.

Orleans Parish School Board superintendent said that, together, the community could help address attendance issues across all the district’s schools.

“Our students make up the fabric of our city’s future,” superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a statement. “As a community dedicated to their advancement and success, we must pull together to address these issues. As the saying goes, it takes a village. We are that village.”

In 2016, 21 percent of students in Orleans Parish were chronically absent. During the 2017-18 school year, the number jumped to 24 percent.

Research has long shown that students who are chronically absent are less likely to reach proficiency in reading by third grade–a common benchmark for when students stop learning to read and begin reading to learn.  As early as sixth grade, chronic absenteeism has been identified as an indicator that a student will later drop out from high school. And even among those who do graduate, those students are far less likely to graduate college.

In Louisiana, chronic absenteeism is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of the school year–or between 15 and 18 days or more of class–whether absences are excused or unexcused.

District officials in New Orleans cited a number of reasons why nearly a quarter of their approximately 48,000 students missed 15 or more days of class, including poverty, juvenile arrests, a lack of access to social services, and weak social safety net and support systems for families.

By bringing together community leaders from different organizations, Orleans Parish officials may be able to help bridge the gap in student need. Among the plans build a stronger culture of attendance, the school board announced it would seek community partners to help:

  • Encourage volunteering as attendance buddies or mentors for chronically absent students;
  • Develop support programs that address the health barriers to attendance, particularly asthma and dental care; and
  • Work with a local school to provide incentives for good or improved attendance, such as gift certificates, books, healthy snacks or backpacks.

And in an effort to build public awareness about the importance of this issue, the district has asked community partners to talk to other business leaders about the role attendance plays in improving achievement and school success, educate their own employees about the importance of good school attendance, and post an “Attendance Advocate” flyer promoting good attendance in your store or office window.

New Orleans isn’t the only district working to tackle high chronic absenteeism rates. Last summer, the district attorney in Caddo Parish–located about 330 miles Northwest of New Orleans–announced his office had issued nearly 20 bench warrants earlier this month as a last resort for parents and guardians who failed to show up for their Truancy Court date.

That sweep affected the families of at least 26 children ranging in age from 6 to 17, who had racked up a combined 1,568 days of unexcused absences between the fall of 2017 and ran through the end of May 2018. Five of the children had missed 100 or more days of class during the 2017-18 school year.

In New Orleans, administrators have also asked that anyone who sees a student outside of school during regular school hours call the district’s Truancy Center, which will connects students with a team of social workers who can help address the reasons children miss school.

“Since becoming a unified district on July 1, 2018, the OPSB made a commitment to families and students through our mission to ensure students are getting the best education possible,” Angela Wiggins, executive director of the district’s Office of Child Welfare and Attendance, said in a statement. “Our office recognizes in order to receive the best education possible our students must be actively present in school every day.”

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