Cleveland Schools Push Attendance and Mentorship
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is making a special effort this year to reduce absenteeism. They’ve found that missing school days is a serious detriment to a child’s chances of graduating high school.
District officials are hoping they’ve turned the corner on the problem. Mark Urycki has details .
It’s surprising how missing just a few days from school can make such a difference for a student's overall achievement. Nationally, the standard definition for chronic absenteeism is missing 18 days of a school year. But Kevin Khayat, the chief of strategy implementation at Cleveland schools says that’s optimistic.
“What we found in doing our analysis was that the threshold for adverse impacts on reading and math scores, third grade reading guarantee, or even being on track for graduation occurred in a much lower threshold- just 10 days. That was a real surprise to us.”
School officials say that can mean cutting the probability of graduation in half. And it doesn’t really matter when they miss those days.
“Beginning of the year, the end of the year, evenly space through the year. And it also doesn’t matter whether the absences are excused or unexcused. It’s missing instruction.”
So all the talk over the quality of the teachers or the curriculum or the tests doesn’t amount to much if children are sitting at home. And in the past, most Cleveland schools reported that half of their students hit that mark of missing ten days or more each year.
Khayat says there are numerous reasons that pupils aren’t making it to class.
“There are often transportation issues, there are issues around poverty and hunger, getting the right uniform is a challenge for families, and you know, it prevents them from getting to school.”
So rather than just unleash the truancy officers, the district has engaged community partners like United Way volunteers and the Cleveland Browns in its Get to School; You Can Make It program.
In the early grades they contact parents to convince them that missing a day really matters, even in Kindergarten. By middle school, the message is aimed directly at the students.
And there are incentives. Schools are serving hot breakfasts. And last month the 6th 7th and 8th grade students at each school who showed the most improvement in attendance since last year received donated bicycles.
Cleveland schools Project Manager Bishara Addison says they’re on their way to meeting their goals after the first semester.
“Our chronic absence rate has dropped by 11.7% which means we have 2,369 more students on track to not miss 10 or more days than we had in previous years.”
Again, about 2400 more students this year appear to be staying under 10 absences mark.
The education department at ideastream worked with Cleveland schools to find out from the kids themselves what challenges they have faced in school. As part of the American Graduates Storytelling Contest kids could write essays, paint a picture, or record audio or video.
One was Brie who says on her videotape she was bullied in elementary schools and even became a bully herself.
“I started to not go to school. I started to give up on my academics, my work, and I became very depressed.”
Part of the contest was to name a champion, someone who kept you on track to succeed. Kids wrote about their fathers, mothers, brothers, and grandparents. Many named teachers.
Amanda wrote about being devastated after flunking second grade but her hard working mother was there to help.
“I remember,” Amanda writes, “some nights where she would be getting ready for work and I'd sit in the bathroom while she helped me study for spelling tests.”
Brie was in and out 4 schools before being sent to a Positive Education Program or PEP school for students with behavioral problems.
“Last school year, my favorite teacher in PEP, Mr. Stozack, actually got me to get up and do my academics.”
Having one reliable mentor, says Bishara Addison, can be big.
“Having that one on one relationship with someone who can encourage you, provide support, be a cheerleader, also be a sounding board when things aren’t going so well – that person really can change lives.”
And that’s why Cleveland schools have started the True2You mentorship program with the Cleveland Foundation and other organizations. Business professionals volunteer to work with a small group of 8th graders and a teacher once a month to talk about goals.
Nearly $100 thousand dollars of state money is coming to the program as part of the governor’s Community Connectors initiative that helps pay for mentors statewide.
For someone who disliked school, like Brie, a little support made the difference.
“I’m doing 11th grade and 12th grade work and planning to graduate a year early.”