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Students- ¡BINcA Te Necesita Aquí Cada Día Avanzando!

Teacher: Marcelina Edwards
School: Boston International Newcomers Academy

The Challenge:
Our project seeks to address chronic absenteeism at BINcA. The project is a two step intervention plan that includes referring chronic absentees through a referral program that includes, phone calls home, teacher meetings with the student and an attendance monitor and student check in. The second step of the intervention would include step one interventions as well as home visits and parent meetings and/or workshops. In addition, students are placed in a unique advisory with mentors from the upper grades to support them throughout the year.

Attendance data shows chronic absenteeism, particularly among Latino students at our school; this issue has also been discussed at grade level team meetings. Our attendance data indicates that our chronic absenteeism rate is 30.27% for the school year 2018-2019 and of the students who are chronically absent, 35.53% of them are Latinos. Our Latino chronic absenteeism is 12% higher than the district chronic absenteeism rate.

What did your team do about it?:
We identified chronic absentees in the summer of 2019 and subsequently set up home visits to meet with students and families to discuss our project and the importance of attendance and to also learn information about the family that would support our ongoing interventions. These meetings helped to forge relationships with the parents and it helped the students to create attendance goals and consider the impact of attendance and academic achievement.

We also scheduled individual check-in meetings with the students to review attendance data and grades and other concerns that may have emerged.

Impact on Students:
The expected outcomes we were looking for were better student attendance and school involvement. We set out to help our students find value and relevance in their education, to build strong and healthy helping relationships with students and families, to support students and families in the process of dealing with life adversities, to navigate through health and housing issues, and to promote a healthy balance of life, school, and work responsibilities. This work has been a rewarding experience. We have students who have learned to appreciate their school and community. We have students who are more engaged and involved in school -participating in after school classes, clubs, and activities. We have students who have benefited from having an adult to guide and support them and from sharing their experience with their peers in advisory.

We collected data to inform our work with each individual student in our advisory group. The data represents a real time analysis of both the individual and group attendance during terms 1, 2 and 3. We also looked at progress made in classes by individual students. We used this spreadsheet to keep track of the data.

Other powerful data was last year’s student reports: progress reports, report cards, and meeting notes.

A powerful success story is that of Edvin -a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala who came to the US in 2017. Last year, he started missing school days and skipping his last period class. His grades were low and he was not motivated about school. We then learned that he was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis -a parasitic infection in the brain that causes seizures and sometimes death. He was worried about his life and found school unbearable at the time.

With 38 absences and having failed 9th grade, we home visited him and his family this summer and then he became an important member of our attendance focused advisory this year. This year, Edvin is a super star. He comes to school every day ready to learn! He is doing well in his classes. He is staying after school for additional help. He is respected among his peers and he is a leader among our group. Edvin is a clear example of success both inside and outside of the classroom, with only 4 absences this year, we know that he is ready for 10th grade. We expect to see him doing great things in the future now that he has found value and relevance in his education and his health issues are resolved. We see an Edvin who is no longer at risk of dropping out or failing the year, but instead an Edvin whose English is improving every day and whose overall achievement is great.

We created an advisory group with chronic absentees and a group of 11th grade mentors that meet on a weekly basis. The students discuss academic goals and ways to improve overall attendance. In addition, the groups have participated in team building activities to promote community and trust.

One particular challenge that we faced was providing adequate training for the mentors. We are continuing to research best practices in relation to mentoring and how that plays a vital role in improving attendance. We realize that we need more time to train the mentors so that they can be more knowledgeable and have a greater impact on the mentees.

Teacher Leadership and School Community:
We learned that teacher leadership is very valuable because teachers are the ones on the front line and thus have intimate knowledge of what changes and improvements would be most effective in the school.

Our growth as educators came with our awareness that solving the attendance problems of our target group would require more effort than just the three of us could provide. We found that more school-wide buy-in and participation is necessary to affect change.

This project made us visible to the school community as leaders and agents of change in that our efforts were recognized school-wide. With the knowledge of our project, we became a resource for the school community to go to when confronted with school-wide attendance issues.

We believe that simply by having done this project with the support of administration, we have raised the consciousness of this issue in our school. Hopefully our efforts have planted the seeds that will lead to making progress in implementing better interventions to improve student attendance among all students, not just our target group.

One of the main challenges was figuring out how to increase student engagement in school as a means to improving attendance. Our first intervention was to conduct home visits before school started. There we met in pairs with the student and his/her to discuss his/her attitude towards school, his/her attendance issues and strategies to improve it.

What’s Next? 
Some questions that this inquiry raised are how can we include the whole staff in buy-in of the idea that we can improve chronic absenteeism despite the feeling that it may seem impossible. We feel an urgency to make this a school priority and to assist in developing protocols and systems to document interventions that are happening school wide. The next phase of the work for our team is to continue to identify students who are at risk and those who are chronically absent and reach out to them and their families in various ways to support them in their journeys to improving their attendance. We are also interested in researching best practices for student mentors to improve the depth of their work with mentees. In addition, we need to research best practices for attendance improvement at schools nationwide. One important part of this process would be to ensure that our current 9th graders have a smooth transition to the new advisory group next year and that they remain together as a source of support for one another.

We can definitely deepen our work by providing more parent workshops and meetings throughout the year. We want to pursue more opportunities to engage the families at the school, as a group.

Helping Others:
We created a very specific process to coordinate our attendance efforts this year. As we explained in the section dedicated to the work, a comprehensive approach was put in practice to support our students. This included: data analysis, home visits, student and teacher meetings, advisory meetings, as well as record-keeping and documenting.

Almost all of our work was guided by teacher initiative and leadership. However a good reading resource was the School Leader’s Guide to Tackling Attendance Challenges book by Jessica Sprick and Randy Sprick. This book highlights that student success in school is directly linked to their presence in school. We know this to be true and can see a perfect example in Edvin’s story whose success we shared above.

A psychologist from Children’s Hospital partnered with our school this year and she provided social emotional learning professional development sessions that supported staff in understanding social emotional needs of students and various classroom interventions to create positive classroom environments.

We could share our learning with others among our school community and district. We know that attendance matters and understand that efforts such as the one we implemented this year should be put in place in many different schools and with many more vulnerable students. Students benefit from having clear expectations from teachers, but they thrive when they receive support to meet those expectations in both the personal and the academic setting