Attendance improving for chronically absent in District 51 schools

A four-year state grant that created six new jobs in District 51 geared toward getting chronically absent students back into school will reach the end of its funding cycle next year.

The Expelled and At-Risk Student Services, or EARSS, grant provided $233,507 in 2012-13 and again in 2013-14 before peeling back to $175,130 this year.

The grant will provide a final gift of $116,754 to the district next year.

In addition to paying for a substance abuse counseling program now in its third year at District 51’s four largest high schools, the grant supported the creation of six attendance advocate jobs.

The grant is paying for the counseling program and four attendance advocate jobs this year. The district’s general fund has absorbed the cost of the other two positions.

District 51 Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller, who authored the grant application, told District 51 School Board members Tuesday night that she hopes they will fund the attendance advocates once the grant is gone, a proposal board members did not commit to or reject at the meeting.

“We’re hoping you guys will see the value in this program and allow it to continue,” Haller said.

Attendance advocates meet with families and visit the homes of students who skip school at least 20 percent of the time to try to find out why kids are missing school.

Once they know the root of the problem, advocates try to help families combat that root cause. A student without money to drive to school may get a gas card, for example, while one afraid of bullies could be referred to counseling.

Attendance advocate Barbara Infanger said she and her colleagues offer students a link back to school.

“Before us, that relationship wasn’t there. We’re the front lines in a school,” Infanger said.

During the first half of the 2014-15 school year, Haller estimates 1,300 students were in contact with an attendance advocate at least once. Among those students, 463 interacted with one of the district’s six attendance advocates at least three times.

Among the students with repeat contact with advocates, 54 percent started showing up at school more frequently during the first semester of this school year and 42 percent increased their grades.

That’s a boost from last year, when 48 percent of chronically absent students improved their attendance after repeat attendance advocate intervention and 36 percent increased their grade-point average.

Not all students and families agree to meet with attendance advocates, though.

So far in 2014-15, 262 truancy notices have been issued for families who refused or did not respond to requests. Two attendance managers (different from attendance advocates) hand-deliver those notices and try again to work with families and create a truancy management plan.

If there’s still no cooperation, a date in truancy court is set, which has been the case for 99 families this year. Those court cases typically end in a court order for the student to comply with an attendance plan. Eleven students have failed to comply with the court order so far this year.


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I know it’s a pain to get kids to come to school if they really aren’t interested. Sometimes you wish they didn’t come when they disrupt the classroom, preventing the students who actually value an education from learning. If their parents don’t care, there’s very little that can be done.

How about we will help you as much as we can, but after all else fails, no more social services if you aren’t in school and passing your classes?

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