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Emma Donnan Middle School had “Bring Your Parent to School” days. Shortridge Magnet High School hosted students who had perfect or improved attendance and their parents for a banquet, where passes to restaurants, movies and sports events were distributed.
Parents at Arsenal Technical High School were trained to use computers to monitor their students’ attendance, grades and assignments. Teachers at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School were told to contact parents every time a student missed class. And attendance-related messages and materials were provided to parents at Emmerich Manual High School in English and Spanish.
These schools – all part of the Indianapolis Public Schools corporation – fielded attendance teams comprised of social workers, guidance counselors, administrators and other school staff and employed a variety of strategies last school year to help students and their families understand that being in school is critically important to their future.
Four schools – Emma Donnan, Shortridge, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School and H.L. Harshman Magnet Middle School – won $5,000 competitive grants from The Indiana Partnerships Center to work with students and their parents to solve problems that make the students frequently absent. Five other schools won grants of $500 each. Funds were provided by the Central Indiana Community Foundation.
“We’ve been really excited to see the creative strategies that the schools’ teams have undertaken to improve attendance,” said Angela Short, director of college and career at The Indiana Partnerships Center. “The most successful teams created practices to address barriers. Their members met weekly and communicated with each other daily to keep track of students whose attendance habits needed work.”
Participation in an attendance group that was facilitated by Butler University graduate students helped one 16-year-old boy improve his attendance at Shortridge, his mother said.
The mother, who asked that her and her son’s names not be used, said her son hadn’t been happy about transferring to Shortridge during the past school year. But the group “did play a part in him wanting to go to school. I don’t know what all they talked about in the class but I do know he did enjoy going to that class. Once he attended that class he knew the importance of going to school.
“His attendance is pretty good now. He has been going more since he’s been attending that meeting.”
Danica McClendon, a social worker at Shortridge, said that students who join the group and their parents sign an attendance contract; students are monitored daily. They participate in group discussions of strategies “to help the students be their best” and address the barriers that prevent them from coming to school.
The group also discussed the importance of attending school; organizational skills; and how to access resources in the school, community and home. Ms. McClendon said that students often don’t see the importance of going to school, but their participation in the group causes them to “feel good about helping the school and their classmates maintain a high attendance percentage” and gives them a sense of pride.
“They report that constant reminders such as announcements about attendance, having to state our attendance pledge, attendance posters, signs and the school attendance motto have been helpful in them recognizing the importance and changing their attitudes about being to school daily,” Ms. McClendon said.
Suzanne Dieker said she can’t say why her stepson, Christian, chose to go to Arlington Community High School most days but skip classes once he was there. After frequent calls from the school, Ms. Dieker and her husband Jonathan “went to the school three different times and discussed with him that this is just not happening,” she said. They told him that “he needs to be in class and he needs to graduate.”
Ms. Dieker said she was pleased that the school was in frequent contact with her and her husband, as well as with Christian. “I know he dropped in their offices quite often so I know they were in contact with him probably every day, trying to make sure he stayed on course as well.”
Christian turned around his attendance issues and was graduated June 12.
Lisa Mastrianna Davitt, a social worker at Arlington, said she and other members of her school’s attendance teams try to establish relationships with students so they become more than names on a list of absentees. “It’s a lot of back and forth, trying to make that connection with the kid,” she said. “I try to make a personal connection with them so they understand I actually care. . . I try to get to know and find out what they want out of their lives. Sometimes it helps; sometimes it doesn’t.”
She and the team members also try to link students to the resources that will help them, such as child care for young mothers. “That’s not always a perfect solution,” she said. “Some have had to withdraw because they are never able to come to school because they were not able to find child care. Or they just never showed up and it got so bad that I couldn’t find them. So we have to withdraw them.”
Ms. Davitt said she encourages parents to tell their children how important it is that they be in school, get to know their children’s teachers and get involved at school.
“They as a parent are the greatest influences of their children,” she said, “and, at the end of the day, the kids respect their parents and respect their parents’ opinions.”
Attendance Works, a national organization, calls on the community to demonstrate the importance of school attendance. The Marion County Commission on Youth – commonly called MCCOY – did just that during the past school year, when it piloted the “Attend to Your Future” project in two Indianapolis Housing Agency communities, Laurelwood Apartments on the southeast side and Blackburn Terrace Apartments near 30th Street and Keystone Avenue.