School districts face a chronic truancy crisis

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School districts across the country are seeing an increase in chronic absenteeism.

Sarah Leonard and Christy Besuzek teach at Ashland Park-Robbins Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska. For example, it is important for students to be in class.

“First graders get their numbers and use them in equations and processes. And we’re really learning to read, basically,” Leonard said.

“It’s frustrating for the kids because they come in and know they missed something important,” Besauzek added.

A Department for Education report in 2016 found that one in six pupils missed at least 15 days of school. Absenteeism is associated with lower academic performance and higher dropout rates

Lisa Utterbuck oversees student services for Omaha Public Schools, which launched a campaign to improve attendance.

“It all boils down to culture. We know that if there is a positive adult at school that they can interact with every day, they are more likely to come,” said Utterback.

Nicole Seymour, who runs the GOALS Center in Omaha, is on a mission to provide out-of-school support and services to out-of-school children.

“And that’s a problem for parents, especially if they’re focusing their efforts on, you know, ‘What’s for dinner? Where are they going to get their resources? How are they going to pay their utility bills?” Seymour said.

Various studies have shown that parental involvement has the greatest impact on student success. In Omaha, the plan may start with teachers.

According to Utterback, he uses almost every resource in the school to teach struggling students.

“The social worker should be able to tell you what’s going on. The consultant should be able to tell you what is going on. If a child has a lot of absences that are sickness, the nurses should be able to tell you what’s going on,” she said.

The first step to closing virtually all educational gaps is for everyone to show up.

“Being here matters. And we’re grateful to have them,” Leonard said.

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