This district found some important partners to fight absenteeism

Bringing students and families back into classrooms has been a monumental challenge for a variety of reasons that include health and safety.

School systems across Maryland have faced an uphill battle with student attendance since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bringing students and families back into classrooms has been a monumental challenge for a variety of reasons that include health and safety.

In Anne Arundel County Public Schools, our struggle was compounded by difficulties with transporting students due to the nationwide bus driver shortage. In the 2022-2023 school year, chronic absenteeism, defined as students missing more than 10 percent of school days in a year, reached an alarming 25.3%.

It’s crystal clear that when students are not in school, they cannot learn. Consequently, academic achievement suffers. Recognizing this, our district has implemented a variety of strategies to tackle this issue head-on. We are seeing results. At the end of February 2024, the percentage of chronically absent students was 21.2%, down 3.6 percentage points from the same time last year. That, we believe, will have a dramatic positive impact on achievement and on the Maryland Report Card star ratings earned by our schools.

First and foremost, we have implemented an innovative solution to our transportation issues, implementing an alternative vehicle program to transport smaller groups of students and shift full-size buses to larger routes to transport more students to school. The results there have been dramatic. We went from dozens of driver vacancies a year ago to none this year.

To further aid in our efforts, we’ve partnered with organizations like Attendance Works and Concentric Educational Solutions to focus individual attention on students and their families, emphasizing the critical importance of school attendance. Interim State Superintendent Dr. Carey M. Wright put it perfectly when she was the state superintendent of education in Mississippi: “Parents, schools, and communities must work together to ensure that students understand the importance of making every school day count.”

Attendance Works and Concentric, in conjunction with the laser-like focus of staff in our schools and administrative offices, have been instrumental in fostering positive engagement with families and forging strategic partnerships to promote student attendance.

Among the efforts:

  • Recognizing the high number of students missing substantial school days during virtual and hybrid learning, we prioritized strategies to remove barriers hindering student attendance.
  • In the Annapolis, Meade, and North County clusters, Attendance Works is supporting school leaders and working with them to help identify those specific barriers and putting in place customized structures to help those families and their students. The organization is also supporting the efforts of our Division of Student Support Services as it works with schools across the county.
  • We have also collaborated with Concentric to identify and implement resources and interventions to support at-risk students in the Meade cluster.
  • Concentric’s professional student advocates conduct home visits to students at risk of chronic absenteeism. These visits provide an opportunity to discuss barriers to attendance directly with families and offer assistance where possible.
  • Additional measures, such as a van program in the Meade cluster, partnerships with the West County Community of Hope for wrap-around services, and increasing the frequency of attendance meetings, have been initiated to combat chronic absenteeism effectively.

We also are focused on providing more mentoring and tutoring support during the school day, particularly for those experiencing poor grades and behavioral challenges. This has proven to be an effective strategy in school systems across the nation and is one of the driving forces behind the establishment of our Office of Mentorship Services.

Through these concerted efforts and others, Anne Arundel County Public Schools is fostering a culture where every school day counts. We are committed to ensuring that our students have the support they need to thrive academically and personally. Together with our community partners and dedicated educators, we will continue to make strides in reducing chronic absenteeism and empowering every student to reach their full potential.

Our students can’t feel a sense of belonging and therefore can’t grow and succeed if they aren’t in our classrooms. We have much more work to do in this arena, and we will require more partnerships as we travel this road to help each and every one of our students.

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