Jeff Bryant: How Community Schools Can Fix a Growing Student Absentee Rate
Independent education journalist Jeff Bryant explains how community schools can be part of the solution for the growing issue of student absenteeism. And he offers some specific case studies. For instance, Erie, PA has had some success with their model.
Due to the district’s budget cuts in 2017, getting to and from school was made much more difficult because the district had limited school bus service to only those families living outside a 1 mile radius of the school. Later, that limitation was raised to 1.5 miles.
“At McKinley [Elementary School], that excludes most of our families,” Amy Grande, the school’s community school director, told Our Schools in 2021. “So, you’re talking about children as young as kindergarten having to cross dangerous roads, including highways, to get to school. That’s an incredible impediment to attendance.”
Working with Jaruszewicz and his United Way colleagues, McKinley educators secured a grant to conduct a safe routes assessment to note where students live, the intersections they had to traverse, and the stoplights and sidewalk conditions students encountered along the way.
Using the results of their assessment, McKinley educators and their United Way partners created a walking school bus with adult volunteers to escort students in their daily treks walking to and from the school.
When the first walking school bus started in February 2021, only four students enrolled, but by the end of the school year, 30 students were enrolled, according to Jaruszewicz, and of the 30 students enrolled, 26 increased their attendance, and the average attendance at McKinley jumped to 86 percent by the end of the school year in 2021, besting the state average.
Other Erie schools, working with the United Way and other partners, had similar success with raising student attendance rates. Strong Vincent Middle School saw chronic absenteeism decrease by 20 percentage points, according to Jaruszewicz, and Edison Elementary School saw its chronic absenteeism rate drop from 22 percent to 11 percent between 2017 and 2020.
Bryant talks about other examples from Florida and New Mexico. They look different, but the core idea remains the same.
Community schools look different from state to state, and even from school to school, but at the heart of the strategy is an emphasis on meeting the multiple needs of not only students but also the community. The basic idea is that schools should serve as hubs in the community and partner with local organizations that serve the many needs of families and students. Schools are the delivery source because that’s where children and families are.