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When it comes to chronic absenteeism, schools should focus on consciously aligning school communication with school connectedness.

How school-home communication combats chronic absenteeism

When it comes to absenteeism, schools should focus on consciously aligning school communications with school connectedness

Key points:

  • Societal challenges are contributing to students’ absenteeism
  • Remaining in consistent communication with adults and caregivers can help reduce chronic absenteeism
  • See related article: 5 ways video improves school-home communication

Adolescents are in crisis right now. Social media, pandemic isolation, gun violence, and structural racism have formed a perfect storm. It’s been so devastating to teens that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association together declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health.

CDC data show 42 percent of teens feel “persistently sad or hopeless,” and 1 in 5 have seriously considered suicide. Just tally up the effects of the past few years. The number of anxious and depressed teens soared during and after the pandemic. The harmful impact of Instagram, particularly on adolescent girls, was all over the news. Recently, the Surgeon General issued a warning about social media, saying, “We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis.” While coming to school should be for learning and friendship, students are pausing to practice in case an active shooter bursts in, leading to a syndrome called vicarious traumatization.

It’s no surprise absenteeism is at an all-time high.

So, how do we get kids back in school?

There’s no quick fix for the societal challenges we’re facing, but there are steps we can take to address absenteeism.

Educators know attending school transforms present life and future prospects for every child. We also know that students are more likely to attend school when they feel their presence matters to someone in the building, known as school connectedness. So, the first thing schools should think about when it comes to absenteeism is consciously aligning school communications with school connectedness.

Take preventative absenteeism measures. For students already struggling with anxiety and depression, a restorative approach to attendance, focusing on relationships and belonging, is far more likely to create the conditions for showing up than one that focuses on truancy.

Erica Peterson, national education manager for School Innovations & Achievement, an organization that supports districts via positive attendance interventions, noted, “Our internal data shows positive communications foster a welcoming school environment, improve student and family engagement, and promote active participation in the learning process.”

Engage home adults with regular classroom updates.

Positive universal attendance initiatives set the tone. But school connectedness relies on students feeling that they matter to a specific adult in the building. That’s where a weekly update can help.

Once a week, the classroom/homeroom teacher or advisor sends a digital, translatable update via email and posts it to social media. Digital, because home adults need access from any device. Translatable because high numbers of chronically absent students are English learners. It should arrive on a consistent day and time, so families anticipate its arrival and rely on its delivery. This builds trust with parents and caregivers. It says, “I am taking the time to share with you what’s happening at school. It matters to me that you know.”

Each week, the update should contain the same basic information:

  • The schedule
  • Due dates & assignments
  • Upcoming events
  • Contact information for the teacher/advisor and school counselors
  • Attendance-focused shoutouts for students

High schools often back away from a weekly cadence of updates, but absenteeism rates reach their peak in high school. So, it’s actually when we need to pull families closer.

Next, we follow up.

Not everyone is going to engage with updates. So, Part 2 of the weekly update is the weekly analytics dive. This is where an integrated data analytics and communications platform is essential for improving student outcomes. It enables teachers to keep track of engagement and see correlations between students’ behavior, achievement, home life, and attendance. When teachers see problematic patterns emerging, they can initiate a positive 1:1 conversation with parents and together develop an attendance plan.

We can never assume home adults don’t care.

Rather, we can assume that most of the time, they simply don’t know what’s going on. If we want to turn absenteeism around, that’s where the change needs to start. In this era of tech, there are excellent, equitable tools for easy digital, translatable school newsletters, 1:1 text messaging, and automated attendance management systems that, when used in combination, will have an immediate impact on attendance.

There are so many barriers to showing up. Let’s not let lack of communication be one of them.

Has your district unified school-to-home communications?
5 ways a more equitable school-home communication system helped our district

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