Local schools somewhat affected by absences trend

Nationally, schools in the United States have been seeing a concerning trend in school absenteeism.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of students that have stopped showing up for school. While not necessarily much of a surprise during the pandemic itself or the year or two after, the current concern is that nationally this number does not seem to have changed much since. According to a recent New York Times article, about 15% of students in the US were consistently absent, missing around 18 days in a year for any number of reasons. By the 2021-2022 school year that number increased to 28%, and last year remained at 26%.

Locally, these numbers followed this trend in the years closer to the pandemic, but more recently have been able to improve.

In more rural schools, such as Clymer Central School, there was not any big change in absences.

“We have not seen any drastic changes in attendance since Covid,” Superintendent Beth Olson said. “One contributing factor to this is that we never had long term remote instruction.”

For Jamestown Public Schools, there was a sharp increase in absences in the year after the pandemic but since then, attendance has improved dramatically. Superintendent Kevin Whitaker said that daily attendance is now at about 90%, and while that is good they are always looking for ways to improve. All schools have recovered to some degree, with the high school lagging behind some of Jamestown’s other schools.

“Each building has their own focus areas when it comes to impacting attendance,” Whitaker said. “Some of it has to do with engagement and relationships with students. Some have to do with parent outreach and support programs. Other interventions include home visits, and the use of parent contact programs like TalkingPoints, which eliminates the challenges of the teacher and parent speaking different languages by translating messages to the receiver as they are sent.”

A significant challenge to continuing to improve attendance, Whitaker said, is the cultural understanding of the importance of attending school. When students and staff were not allowed to attend school in the physical buildings for a time, followed by distancing requirements that forced many schools to go half-time or alternating-day scheduling, Whitaker added, the fabric of the relationship between school and home was damaged.

“The idea that a face-to-face lesson is the same as a zoom lesson is just magical thinking, and has caused a number of challenges, from attendance to engagement to math and ELA learning,” Whitaker said.

With districts across the state and region facing these same issues, Whitaker said something they have learned is that wealthy districts have fared better, saying that “this is yet another disparity between high wealth districts and low wealth districts that needs to be addressed.”

In Dunkirk City Schools, Superintendent Michael Mansfield said that before the pandemic the school district was at about a 92% attendance rate. This dropped to 81% during Covid, but has trended upward since with 89% last year and around 90% right now. He added that they have been fortunate to see a steady increase.

“Like many schools we had to take steps to bring students back, like making our school an inviting and safe environment,” Mansfield said. “We reinstated an attendance officer who monitors attendance and contacts the family if they see an increase in absences and talks with any agencies that may help. We have incentivised and reminded students of the importance of attendance.”

Reemphasizing the importance of attendance is also something that parents can do to help the situation, Mansfield said. School is important so students can go and learn and attendance is something that Mansfield added continues throughout life into both college and a job. Attendance is a constant message and there are websites with resources to help encourage attendance, such as attendanceworks.org.

Mansfield emphasized the importance of attending, saying that it will pay off in the future and adding that a high school diploma can open doors and get students ready for the rest of their lives.

“I want to emphasize the importance of attending school and your job later in the future,” Mansfield said. “If people count on you you have to make sure you’re there. Attendance matters.”


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