As a community school coordinator in Baltimore City, it was a primary responsibility to track attendance and facilitate interventions for students with troubling numbers of absences. Often, figuring out why students were missing school was like solving a puzzle. Had we not been religiously tracking data to see the patterns in each student's attendance record, some of their periods of absenteeism and related needs would have gone unnoticed in our school's daily attendance statistics.
Some cases were easy to understand, even if they were hard to stomach... a child's relative was gunned down in the neighborhood and the family wanted to be together ... a parent's car broke down, so they couldn't get their son to school ... a family was evicted and was staying with relatives across town ... For many of those cases, we could support the families by arranging transportation or referring them to local service providers. Usually, the children ended up back in school soon after.
Others seemingly had no explanation for why their children were missing so many days of school. Figuring out the story behind one particular little girl became my mission. She missed an unthinkable 68 days in Pre-Kindergarten, and her mom was not very easy to get a hold of. By halfway through Kindergarten, when she already exceeded the criteria for chronic absence, I waited for her mom every day at dismissal. When I finally got to sit down with her, our conversation would be a turning point for my approach to attendance and family engagement.
What was so monumental? I gave her mom a simple compliment, and that turned things around. I told her that her daughter was always beautifully dressed and that her hair was always adorable, so I knew how much she cared for her daughter. She was shocked that I would compliment her parenting. She began to cry and told me about her current situation. We were able to arrange some supports for them to help get her super sweet girl to school.
Things weren't always smooth sailing for them after that, and her mom was still hard to reach. But this little girl went from missing over one-third of her Pre-K year to missing fewer than 10 days by the first half of 1st grade.
To me, she is a true success story for genuine, asset-based approaches to family engagement. Instead of focusing on what parents aren't doing, a simple comment about the great things they are doing can be very powerful. And of course, the conversation wouldn't have even been possible without the data pointing us in the right direction.
STRUCTURED SOLUTIONS wants to help your school have its own success stories. For Baltimore City Schools principals, we are an approved vendor on K-12 Buy! For principals anywhere else, I would love to talk to you.