The Department of Education reported 16% of the student population in the United States missed 15 or more days of school in the 2015-16 school year for a total of more than seven million students. The issue of chronic absenteeism is a real one. The Itasca County Truancy Prevention Program (ICTPP) took part in the nationwide Attendance Awareness Campaign in September and is working to continue raising awareness of the issue all throughout the year through their Attendance Matters! Campaign.

Kim Geislinger, director of Ross Resources and program director of ICTPP, is helping lead the campaign, Attendance Matters! in Grand Rapids. The campaign aims to reduce the number of overall absences in a student’s school year and raise awareness around the importance of high attendance.

“Three years ago they said chronic absenteeism was a national epidemic,” Geislinger said.

The Department of Education enacted the 2015 federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which required states to file improvement plans that they would be held accountable to. Geislinger explained that Minn. is one of four states with an approved plan. Part of this plan states that Minnesota schools will have 95% attendance and 90% attendance for sub-populations by 2020. The Attendance Matters! campaign in Grand Rapids is focused on reaching this goal.

To be considered chronically absent, a student must miss 10% of school days in a year. In Grand Rapids, missing 8.5 days of school each semester equals 10%. However, 11 absences are allowed per semester.

Geislinger hopes that they will see this number reduced in the future. She also reported that it is important to make sure students don’t miss more than two days of school in the month of September as this typically leads to more absences in the following months.

“We are learning to use our data,” Geislinger said.

The Department of Education reported one out of every six students missed more than three weeks on school in 2015-16. However, “compared to their white peers, American Indian and Pacific Islander students are over 50% more likely to lose three weeks of school or more, black students 40% more likely, and Hispanic students 17% more likely.”

The department furthered that research shows challenges families face—limited transportation, lack of safety and poor health—can lead to chronic absenteeism. These factors can be prominent in areas of poverty and disadvantaged communities, according to the Department of Education.

The Department of Education released the data for the 2015-16 school year for all school districts in the country. Below are some of the numbers from school districts in the Grand Rapids area.

According to the ICTPP 2018-19 Year End Report, 83% of Itasca County students are not considered chronically absent. While this number is high, there is still work to be done to reach the 95% goal set by the state of Minn. for 2020. Truancy Prevention Specialists Kasey Troumbly at K-8 grades at Greenway Public School and Tracy Rabbers, working at Grand Rapids High School both work to make sure all students are attending school consistently.

“I do this by monitoring daily school attendance reports, having parent and student contact, and working closely with school staff and other providers,” Troumbly explained. “I work closely with families and students to help identify barriers such as transportation issues, mental health concerns, etc. and refer them to appropriate services when needed. Our number one goal is for all students to graduate and be successful. “

There are 10 Truancy Prevention Specialists in the ISD 316, 317, 318 and 319 school districts.

“My job entails tracking daily attendance and helping students and families with any barriers that may prevent good school attendance,” Rabbers said. “This could include mental health, transportation, daycare issues, housing issues, etc. We team with other school supports and community providers to work on building positive relationships with the families in our community.”

Both commented on the effects they have seen on students who are chronically absent. Troumbly stated that higher rates of absence impacts students both academically and emotionally.

“We have seen an increase in anxiety with some of our students who miss too much school. This then can result in more school refusal/avoidance,” Troumbly noted.

Rabbers furthered this point and noted that both increased absences and tardiness affects how students perform in their classrooms.

“When they miss school or consistently come in late to class it can cause or increase anxiety and stress for that student. They begin to fall behind in their work and lose motivation to have positive school attendance,” Rabbers said. “Students who miss just two days per month can become chronically absent which has an impact not only on their grades but on their social and emotional learning.”

Geislinger emphasized the importance of making sure young students are brought to their classes on time.

“It’s amazing how much and how impactful it is for little kids to not be on time for school. The tardy issue is a huge issue,” Geislinger said. “Their little brains are so wired for structure that it is so important, that consistent security of knowing what the next thing is, for their development at that age.”

According to the Dept. of Education, students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade who are chronically absent are less likely to read at grade level by the third grade. Those students who are unable to read at grade level in third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. Furthermore, dropping out of high school can be linked to poor outcomes in such as poverty, involvement in the criminal justice system and poor health, according to the Dept. of Education.

If one does not have students in school, it is easy to wonder why one should care about student’s attendance rates.

Rabbers addressed this point and said, “Regular school attendance not only helps students with their educational needs but also helps them learn skills that will be useful once they graduate. These skills include but are not limited to how to deal with conflict, self advocate, timeliness and responsibility.”

Troumbly added, “Our community should care about our kids attending school because our kids are our future. We want our kids to have a great work ethic, have positive social skills, be a positive role model and learn the importance of arriving to work on time. These are all things our kids learn aside from the education piece when attending school.”

The Attendance Matters! Campaign asked parents, students, school leaders and community members to help curb chronic absenteeism. They also provided tips for maintaining high attendance.

Tips for maintaining good attendance- Provided by www.attendanceworks.org

Build regular routines for bedtime and morning.

Develop back up plans for getting to school if something comes up.

Avoid scheduling trips when school is in session.

Don’t let your child stay home unless truly sick.

Keep a chart of your child’s attendance at home.

Talk about the importance of attendance.

For more information on the Attendance Awareness campaign, visit www.attendanceworks.org. For more information on the Truancy Prevention Program, please contact Program Director Kim Geislinger at 218-328-6434 or email kim.geislinger@rossresources.net.

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