Sitting next to a good friend during class, or catching up with old friends and making new ones at lunch is all part of the education process. Getting an education is more than just making good grades, it’s also about the experiences in the classroom, building positive connections, and growing with fellow classmates.
During the 2021 school year – More than 10 million students nationwide were chronically absent – That means they missed 10 percent or more of school days. Chronic absenteeism has more than doubled from eight million students before the pandemic to roughly 16 million now academically at risk for missing so much school. Students are having more difficulty learning to read by third grade – and achievement in middle school – even struggling to graduate from high school.
Studies have found children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent because their community lacks some of those resources – communities of color and students with disabilities are also disproportionately impacted.
We know it’s hard to get back into the routine of going to school after spending so much time at home during the pandemic, but as we cover in this week’s Connect Canyons podcast, there are teams of educators ready to help.
Mindy Robison, Principal at Midvale Middle School, says one of her students struggled with going back into the classroom this year following the pandemic and wound up thanking Robison and her team after she was able to calm her anxiety.
“It was so great,” says Robison. “I mean, the mom walked around, we had a certain location where she handed her off to one of us and we told her we’re so happy to see you today, you got this.”
Robison says communication is key as parents work with the school to create a plan to build healthy school attendance habits.
Chanci Loran, Program Administrator in student services for the District says they look at the overall wellness of students, a bit like an umbrella covering safety and climate.
“When we know that students are connected to someone, whether it’s peers, whether it’s adults in the school,” says Loran, “but having those positive connections, they’re going to want to be in school.”
Loran and Robison agree, if your child is struggling with not wanting to go to school, reach out to the person you or your student feel comfortable with, whether a teacher or a counselor. They also suggest reminding your child how proud you are and why they’ll like being at school.
“Reinforce that,” Loran says, “that expected behavior so that when they have done what you’re hoping for, they realize that you’re super proud of them and that you’re going to make it worthwhile to continue to do that.”
It’s understandable, sometimes students need to miss school. Whether they are dealing with transportation challenges or they are sick. But Robison and Loran stress that schools have resources to help.
While it’s important to make sure your child isn’t missing too much school due to smaller health issues like a runny nose or upset stomach that could just be nerves, the problem educators are seeing is in the habits being formed.
“I think the one that’s been more challenging for us is this chronic absenteeism more based on maybe habits,” says Robison. “Behaviors, mindsets — those have been a little bit more challenging for us.”
Loran suggests parents make routines the night before to help take the pressure off during the morning. Things like getting homework done the night before, having backpacks ready, maybe even picking out the next day’s outfit.
“Whenever we can have those routines and really clear expectations about what’s happening, it makes everyone feel more in control, parents as well as children,” says Loran.
Robison suggests relating school with a job – Some parents may work from home now but they’re still doing work.
“I just caution parents,” Robison says, “just because you excuse the absence, you’re not excusing the work. You can’t excuse the experiences, so just really be thoughtful.”
Loran and Robison understand sometimes parents feel guilty if their child is late or misses class, establishing those routines can help parents and children alike.
“Instead of feeling bad about it, let us work together,” says Robison. “Instead of focusing on that guilt, focus on what we can do and allow other people to help. We love your kids, we want to be there, we can support them the best when they are there, and we are a team working together, so if you’re struggling, please let us work together.”