Building positive relationships is a key component of the district-wide attempt to improve attendance and address chronic absenteeism. At China Middle School, fostering stronger connections with students and families has been the core component of their strategy.
For obstacles such as illness and injuries, the school nurse contacts families with the goal of keeping communication open and getting students back to school as soon as appropriate. Other attendance obstacles, however, require a more complex solution.
“We have seen a shift in the number of students with anxiety and mental health issues in the past several years,” said Principal Lois Bowden, “which has impacted attendance.”
Instead of sending them home if an issue arises, CMS staff has used weekly team meetings and 504 meetings to develop individualized plans for absent students. For example, one student who suffered from anxiety was provided access to a preferred staff member that they could check in with if they were feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
Perhaps the largest obstacle to attendance is misconceptions about the value of attendance. CMS is addressing that with a multi-pronged approach. JMG continues to be a resource to provide support for students who may be chronically absent. In addition, CMS has further developed their advisory program to focus on team building activities, guided lessons and academic support. Advisors have also been working to strengthen connections with the families of their advisees to keep everyone on the same page.
The school also has a new position that has been hugely instrumental in increasing attendance. The Student Support Specialist, Doreen Armour, tracks attendance, calls families when students become chronically absent, and most importantly, builds relationships with students who might otherwise not be getting social and academic support. She also helps build reentry plans for students who have been chronically absent to help them return to school.
The initiative has already been a success in terms of reinforcing connections with students and their families, according to Principal Lois Bowden. “It has opened the lines of communication between school and home,” she said. “We are able to make a plan and work together to help support the child, which has resulted in positive outcomes.