At Cross Keys High School – and other high schools with similar populations – attendance is a major problem. Many students miss school for reasons that students from higher socioeconomic families don’t have to struggle with.

This year, I’ve had students miss school for the following reasons:

  • To take their mother to the doctor and translate for them
  • To watch after their younger siblings while their mother looked for jobs or went to doctor appointments
  • To stay home with their sick mother and to take care of their younger siblings
  • To work a job so that they could pay rent (because a parent had recently died)
  • To sleep in after working into the early hours of the morning to help their parents pay rent
  • To stay home with their baby because they couldn’t find childcare

Obviously some of my students have missed school for less-than-admirable reasons. However, most of the students in my classes miss school for the reasons listed above, and we need to think creatively and quickly in order to solve this ever-present issue. Often this behavior leads to dropping out of school entirely, so it is imperative that we address these issues.

How Can the School Help?

I’m definitely not the first or the last person who will suggest ways to improve attendance issues, but some of the best ways include:

  • Credit-recovery/summer classes held during the summer or after the school day during an extra “period” (Disclaimer: I realize some students take advantage of this option, but for students who have legitimate reasons for failing, this can be a great opportunity.)
  • Allowing for flexible learning options, like GA Virtual School online classes (not as a substitute, but as a supplement to the regular class schedule), for no additional cost
  • Staggering student schedules (For example, students could attend school from 8:00AM-3:00PM, 9:00-4:00PM, or 10:00AM-5:00PM depending on demand, teacher flexibility, and student need.)
  • Providing on-site childcare for students (and teachers!). Gwinnett County’s Phoenix High School offers this, but DeKalb County currently does not. This could be coupled with the Early Childhood Development classes so that this option would be affordable and educational simultaneously.
  • Ensuring all parents have downloaded the school system’s app in order to receive alerts when their child is absent from class or tardy
  • Providing more home-based/online learning options housed within each high school where there is demand
  • Making school more immediately relevant by offering more career pathways and using project-based learning, whereby students solve real-world problems while in high school
  • Promoting dual-enrollment programs (now called “Move On When Ready”) to motivated students

Education is one of the greatest indicators of wealth, and the students who don’t graduate from high school are well on their way to continuing and/or falling into poverty. Something must be done – not just for them, but for the health and success of our communities.

For many Title I schools, attendance issues contribute to low test scores and low graduation rates – something which, in Georgia, makes a school likely to end up in the proposed Opportunity School District (OSD), which voters will decide on next fall.

Here is a brief video detailing the Opportunity School District and some concerns raised by many opponents of the OSD. I will be writing a more detailed article on this at a later date, but this video explains it rather briefly.

Cross Keys High School is on the list of “priority schools” because of its graduation rate (as calculated by our College and Career Ready Performance Indicator or CCRPI). Because of its CCRPI score, if the OSD bill passes, it could be taken over by the state and converted to a charter school, run by the state-appointed superintendent of the OSD, or shut down, among other things.

To tackle these attendance-related issues, our school has done the following:

  • Works with the school’s Attendance Committee to strategically plan ways to improve student attendance (which I serve on)
  • Partners with Communities in Schools (CIS), a program that uses a case manager model to give personal attention –- like conducting home visits — to specific students designated as at-risk for dropping out upon entering the 9th (Designation is based on attendance records, grades, and behavior records from middle school.)
  • Employs a Student Support Specialist who regularly meets with students having attendance or behavioral issues
  • Employs a English Language Success Facilitator who regularly works with students to overcome language barriers and other social factors that might discourage the child from attending class
  • Houses a vibrant Parent Center through which parents can learn how to support their students academically and socially, including how to improve student attendance

If you have any additional ideas, I’d love to hear them! Feel free to post below or email me at rebekahcmorris@gmail.com.