Can a cup of coffee help solve chronic absenteeism?
At Patrick Henry School in Cleveland, Ohio, principal Brittany Anderson is using weekly offers of free coffee and breakfast to engage parents and encourage student attendance.
This is just a small part of a broader effort by Cleveland Public Schools to reduce a nearly 50 percent chronic absentee rate among its 40,000 students, as a new video report from the PBS Newshour and Education Week explains.
As districts across the country work to reduce chronic absenteeism–where students miss 10 percent or more of the school year–Cleveland’s comprehensive, and sometimes creative, approach may help inspire new ideas.
Principal Anderson tells the Newshour that the coffee meetings were a simple way to invite parents into her school without being overly formal or adding too many expectations.
Parent Diamond Gadmonski says this simple gesture of kindness makes her feel welcome in her child’s school. “When you come in, you see smiling and friendly faces with stuff to give to you, hot treats or whatever, it makes you feel good,” she says.
Cleveland school leaders believe that developing personal relationships represents an important step in motivating parents to ensure their children get to school.
While informal offers, such as morning coffee meetings, are useful the district has also launched several broader initiatives to encourage school attendance, including a traditional marketing campaign.
The district used the slogan, “Get 2 School, You can make it,” as a rallying cry for students, parents, teachers, and community members. It placed branded ads on posters, billboards, t-shirts, and other items to encourage school attendance.
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Administrators say positive messaging is more effective than punitive measures.
The district also recruited school staff, board members, bus drivers, and others in the community to make outbound phone calls–more than 16,000 in the first year–to inform parents of multiple absences and offer support.
A community effort
Broad chronic absenteeism is often rooted in issues that have little to do with the classroom, the Newshour reports.
In researching the problem, the district found that a lack of basic needs–such as clean clothing and transportation–are often among the main reasons why students miss school.
An initiative to provide free uniforms to students in need had an immediate effect, according to the district’s attendance supervisor Lorri Hobson. “We provide uniforms to any family who needs a uniform,” Hobson says, “and what we discovered was, attendance improves for as much as six weeks after receiving a uniform.”
The district has also partnered with community organizations and businesses to provide basic services, including community college scholarships, attendance checks as a condition of local employment, and visits from members of the Cleveland Browns NFL football team.
Making much needed progress
By all accounts, school leaders say the efforts are working.
According to the Newshour, chronic absenteeism has declined from 50 percent to 30 percent in two years.
Experts say the decline in chronically absent students could have a big effect on individual student and overall district performance.
In a study of Florida students, researcher Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University found that for every additional missed day of school, students lose one point on state standardized tests. For 10 missed days, students lost 10 points on tests, Balfanz tells the Newshour.
With up to 7 million students throughout the country deemed chronically absent, solving school absenteeism could translate to significant improvements in school performance.
For more on Cleveland’s school attendance efforts, check out the full video report below: