Regular attendance in school is crucial to a child’s ability to learn, grow and thrive. It forms the foundation for further academic and social development. This is why chronic absenteeism in school needs to be addressed from the very beginning – kindergarten. Studies released by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) highlight the adverse affect of chronic early school absence, most notably in the child’s diminished educational progress in the primary grades.
In a September 2008 report from NCCP, Present, Engaged, and Accounted For, researchers Hedy Chang and Mariajosé Romero conclude that low income children with the highest rates of absenteeism in kindergarten ranked at the bottom of the their class academically in future years. Further, the report finds a link between chronic absence in students’ early years and a number of negative outcomes later in life – including truancy, delinquency, substance abuse and dropping out of high school. School absenteeism has a far-reaching impact on a child’s academic progress and future.
Images Courtesy of Nccp.org
So what are the contributing factors to chronic absenteeism? Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absence in the United States. Also impacting attendance are important socio-economic factors, such as low income, troubled and unstable family life, behavioral problems and cultural adaptation issues. A strong partnership between the community, families, teachers and counselors can make the difference in the lives of children by providing strategies to address the problem of chronic absenteeism.
“Chronic early absenteeism represents a pernicious and hidden problem. Young children who miss a lot of school are headed down a road of great disadvantage, especially if they fall behind their peers on the critical task of learning how to read” says Jane Quinn, Assistant Executive Director for Community Schools at The Children’s Aid Society. “Fortunately, by shining a light on this problem, schools can join forces with community partners who can help them address the root causes of chronic absenteeism in the early grades—most likely health or family problems.”
Chang and Romero urge that school districts look at the attendance patterns of individual students to assess the extent to which chronic absence is a problem in schools. The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School conducted such an analysis of NYC’s attendance data in 2007-2008 (Strengthening Schools by Strengthening Families) and found that one in five students in grades K to 5 were chronically absent. In New York’s poorest neighborhoods, the rate was as high as one in every three students. The New School report concludes that community schools – schools that organize and integrate community resources into the core instructional program – are well-positioned to not only identify students who are at risk of being chronically absent but also respond to their multi-faceted needs.
“Community schools” are lauded nationwide as a method for integrating social services, health care and other supports into the public education system. They rely on formidable partnerships between public school principals and the leadership of community-based nonprofits, such as the Children’s Aid Society in New York.