As the Warren County School District continues to rebound from the many impacts of COVID-19, it has attendance in sight.
Attendance standards haven’t really changed, they were just hard to meet during COVID when students missed weeks of both quarantine or isolation. With fewer cases and fewer restrictions, attendance should rebound.
It is, but not enough.
“Children miss school” said Director of Student Services, Dr. Patricia Mead.
She said there has been an average of more than one new attendance-related referral per day over the past month.
“Children should be in school” Student Services Supervisor Leslie Bloomgren said. “Keeping them out of school does them no favors. They must be present for their success.
“If you miss 20% or more of the school year, the correlation is that you’re less likely to graduate.” says Bloomgren.
Those who tend to miss school are often less connected to other students and school activities – factors that are correlated with dropping out.
The district does not encourage parents to send sick children to school. “We are not trying to crack down on parents who do the right thing by keeping sick children out of school,” says Bloomgren.
But, they are working to make sure students are in school when they can and provide help for students who need it after missing time.
“We check each school’s attendance report weekly,” said Mead.
This check flags potential problems.
A multidisciplinary team is in place to review cases where students exhibit a pattern of absence and identify barriers to attendance. The team looks at the ABCs – attendance, behavior (both discipline and mental health issues) and lessons.
Absence can lead to a cycle of problems. “You start to have anxiety because you’re late for your work”, says Bloomgren.
And, the district is ready to step in to help. “Do they need a plan to help them succeed? she says.
“We take into account the child as a whole” says Bloomgren.
If transportation, mental health, bullying issues, or any other factor is playing a role in student attendance, the district wants to know and work on it.
Understanding that all children experience trauma at some level, the district offers psychological counseling services from the district’s seven school psychologists and the efforts of the school’s three social workers to all students.
The district also has a two-year agreement with Family Services of Warren County to provide art therapy services.
All basic school behavioral service providers have taken or are required to take 14 courses, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) training, Mead said. The district has a dedicated trauma-informed care coordinator and each high school building has a trauma-informed club. In addition to meeting on their premises, the various clubs will come together to share ideas and information throughout the school year.
The home school visitor for the district is responsible for verifying attendance situations related to students attending virtually.
Students who do not have counseling as part of their education plans may be referred for services by teachers, parents, or themselves.
The district also uses universal screening, using the principles of social-emotional learning (SEL). The platform sends an email survey to students four times during the school year.
The questions ask students to rate their abilities and level of comfort with school situations.
There are also school climate and culture surveys that are sent to staff, students and parents, Bloomgren said. “How does school make you feel?”
The district continues to take action — including publicly visible action — to address attendance.
In September — attendance awareness month — the district had five attendance-related billboards in high-traffic areas of the county.
“It was hard for everyone” says Bloomgren. “It is a work in progress.”