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Schools Look to Holistic Approach to Improve Attendance

Photo by Max Wolfe via Creative Commons

When it comes to lowering the high school dropout rate, many school leaders have found that something fairly basic works: the ABCs — Attendance, Behavior and Class.

And after President Obama’s call-to-action to raise the legal dropout rate to 18 in this year’s State of the Union, communities across the country are looking at their own attempts to crack down on poor attendance and searching for the most effective strategies.

In Washington, D.C., where 20 percent of students miss 15 or more days of school each year, parents and students soon will see individual success stories advertised on bus shelters, each sharing their own inspiration for good attendance. A radio commercial targeting parents also will be aired on local stations.

The strategy is the result of a truancy task force created by health and family services and law enforcement agencies.

While it is too early to tell if this campaign, which costs between $500,000 and $700,000 according to the Washington City Paper, will work for Washington, D.C., the multi-agency approach already has proven successful elsewhere in the country.

A recent report by the Los Angeles-based School Attendance Task Force shows that Alhambra Unified School District in California reduced its truancies by 61 percent within two years of implementing a program that provided mental health resources to help students cope academically and socially.

“I don’t have any expectations that we’ll plop down this report and everyone will say, ‘yay, hooray, let’s do it all,'” said Education Coordinating Council vice chairman Michael Nash, according to a KPCC report. “You hope some of this will resonate with school districts and they’ll think we could do this, we could do that, and they’ll do what they can.”

Communities also are reevaluating discipline policies, which in some cases have led to less time in the classroom and more time in the criminal justice system, exacerbating the dropout problem.

In Atlanta, courts now have more disciplinary options for parents whose children have been caught breaking daytime curfew hours. Instead of criminalizing these offenses with jail time, courts have the option of sending parents to counseling and parenting classes or community service.

“The goal of this ordinance is not to put parents in jail or to administer fines,” said Atlanta City Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell, quoted an Atlanta Journal Constitution report. “Those are the methods of last resort.”

Still, the reasons why students don’t make it to school are many: family problems, teen pregnancy, bullying, work obligations or simply being bored in the classroom.

Rebecca Lara, a senior at Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C., and one of the students featured in the district’s anti-truancy campaign, said it comes down to waking up earlier and putting in the effort.

When students miss school, it impacts others as well. “We’ve got a lesson. Children don’t come back. We have to repeat the lesson again because they’ve missed it,” said teacher Nina Barre in New Orleans’ Recovery School District in a 2009 NewsHour report. “They’re getting the same lesson over and over again. They can’t move on.”

Watch the video below:

American Graduate is a public media initiative focused on the high school dropout problem.

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