The average attendance rate has been just 86% this year at a Rochester city elementary school where I volunteer. So a slew of volunteers, including school staff and community folks, went to students’ houses on a recent afternoon to see what’s going wrong.
This was the city school district’s first Attendance Reach-Out for an elementary school. Of the 431 students in grades K-6, 48 students have had perfect attendance so far, but 21 students have already missed more than 20 days of school. The group with the worst attendance in this building: first grade.
Transportation came up repeatedly.
Among the stories the home visitors brought back:
- One family had moved away, so now the enrollment records will be updated.
- One mom whose two boys have missed 9 or 10 days of school said sometimes they miss the bus, which arrives at 6:55 a.m. (school starts at 7:50 a.m.). They live far from the school but the mom chose this school because her older daughter went there. The home visitors talked with the boys about ways they could help their mom and get themselves ready for school in time for the bus.
- Another mom has 9 kids, including a baby and preschoolers. Two children go to two different schools. The three children on our list have all missed a lot of school. They live nearly 1 mile from the school and don’t qualify for busing. The mom said it takes the three kids 40 minutes to walk to school, which is exhausting in the cold, so she doesn’t always send them. (I wonder whether the children have appropriate winter clothing and coats/hats/mittens, and I wonder whether the route is safe.)
- At another house, three older sisters attend a nearby school down the street, but that school was “full” so their first-grade sister travels 3 miles to a different school. That requires being ready for the school bus at 7:10 a.m., nearly 2 hours before her sisters have to go to school. (The sisters’ school starts at 9:15 a.m.) Her mother said the first-grader misses school when she misses the bus, because the mom can’t leave the other children unattended. A volunteer on that home visit recommended the mother go to the neighborhood school and insist that they take the first-grader. (I notice that the district’s student enrollment form asks for the names and ages of siblings but not which school they attend.)
- One grandmother who is the caregiver for three children – including the smiling, sweet girl on this school’s list of students with poor attendance — pulled out her folders with each child’s school/medical records and showed that some of the attendance problems were due to meetings with Child Protective Services.
The district’s attendance office folks collected our notes and said they will follow up with each one.
I’m grateful for the district initiating this Attendance Reach-Out. I don’t know how much it will affect attendance. But at least families and school staff are talking about the situation.