Webinar #3: A Healthy Return to School: Ensuring Showing Up!

“A Healthy Return to School: Ensuring Showing Up,” was the third Attendance Awareness Campaign webinar. Sponsored by Attendance Works, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and campaign partners, the webinar focused on how to create a supportive, welcoming environment that encourages a sense of connection and community as students and families return to school.

Attendance Work’s Hedy Chang noted that nationwide, chronic absence was about 8 million before the pandemic, then doubled in many areas and is highest among minority and low-income students. Labeling absences “unexcused” is punitive, she said, and works against solving chronic absence; what’s needed is a multitiered approach across silos.

Hedy mentioned Attendance Works’ free data tools, including some that allow for a look at data to see which demographic groups are disproportionally chronically absent from school.

Gloria Corral, president and CEO of Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), stressed the importance of “engaging families in a culturally and linguistically responsive way.”

PIQE, which serves 25,000 families across California, conducts a Family Needs Assessment Survey twice a year with 90% of the phone interviews in Spanish. Among the reasons students are absent, the latest survey found, among other reasons: 48%, short-term illness, 10% chronic illness, 2% bullying, 2% bad weather and 1% unreliable transportation. Consistent, multichannel communication was very much appreciated by the school community, she said. “Families want constant, consistent information,” Corral said. “Our youngest learners have experienced the most disruption” and have had the fewest opportunities to form good schooling habits, she added.

“Health and success in school are interconnected,” said Elliott S. Attisha, MD, senior fellow at Attendance Works. “Nutrition, sleep and exercise are key to a healthy lifestyle.” Attisha reviewed recommendations on student hygiene, everyday safety and wellness, and noted that cavities are the number-one chronic disease of childhood. He encouraged school staff to share Attendance Work’s new health guidance handout, developed with the National Association of School Nurses and Kaiser Permanente: “Healthy students are more likely to attend school … and more likely to be ready to learn,” he said.

Principal Erin Helgren shared some good news from Oregon’s Yoncalla Elementary School: Its chronic absence rate of 71% in 2021-22 fell to 49% in 2022-23. This is a rural community in the southern part of the state, she said, with just 160 students in preschool through sixth grade.

A few years ago, in examining why the rate has been so high, Helgren said, administrators “had assumed parents/caregivers didn’t prioritize education.” But the school asked—and found that parents didn’t feel connected to the school. Outreach now includes parent cafes, family leadership groups, home visits at every grade level and engaging families in curriculum and similar decisions.

Families also lacked access to basic resources, so the school set up a care closet (clothing, toiletries etc.), a food pantry, connections with health providers, youth sports support and a partnership with a local rural residency program for health classes and services. There was a shift from a “school fortress model” to school as a hub of the community.

Naomi Tolentino, coordinator of student support programs for Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, works at the district level in an urban public school district, the state’s fifth largest. It has 22,000 students who speak 65 languages in total. In partnership with Attendance Works and the Red Apple Co., they too shifted from a truancy model to an intervention and engagement model with direct coaching, group training and data monitoring in 20 schools initially. They also surveyed high school students to learn what was keeping them out of school, Tolentino said.

During the webinar Hedy shared Attendance Works resources, including the year-round planning calendar, the Count Us In! toolkit and the Showing Up Matters for R.E.A.L. toolkit.

If you missed this event, click here and scroll down for the archived recording and materials.

Save the date and register today for the remaining Attendance Awareness Campaign webinar for 2023, on September 27!

Sign up to join the Attendance Awareness Campaign and receive the most up-to-date resources and news from Attendance Works.

Please activate some Widgets.