For some, it’s the embarrassment of not having clean clothes to wear to school. For others, it’s a lack of transportation when the only family car is used to get to work. Still others may face family, health, or financial issues.
Myriad barriers can lead to a student becoming chronically absent, or missing 10 percent or more of school days. The impact of those missed days can have substantially detrimental effects on student learning and success. Every missed day of school can take up to three days to make up. Over time, that could even keep a student from graduating.
“That’s why attendance teams are so important because they’re able to identify those issues and intervene earlier,” said Olga Alferez, Director of Student Welfare and Supports. “It’s a team that comes together…to be able to put those resources and those interventions in place to help the families be more successful.”
Attendance teams are in place at every Jurupa Unified campus. These teams include teachers, counselors, classified staff, administrators, and sometimes even students. They meet to analyze attendance data, identify the root causes of absenteeism, and find ways to address the issues. Their work is making a difference. Between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, JUSD saw a 3.42 percent increase in attendance rates.
Creative solutions are the key to success. One example is the Del Sol 6. At the beginning of the year, all Del Sol Academy staff – classified and certificated – were assigned six students to get to know and connect with. Staff members regularly connect with students to find out what’s happening in their lives and “kind of have a check-in system with that student.” said Assistant Principal Evelyn English.
At Rubidoux High School, the attendance team analyzes data to look for attendance trends and to see when more absences are reported. Since absences are more likely on Mondays or Fridays, especially before and after long holidays, incentives are planned for those times to encourage attendance.
One of those incentives is the Falcon Phone Call. An announcement is made on the intercom system with a trivia question, usually related to school culture or history. Those who get the answers right can win prizes like pizza or even Six Flags tickets. But students have to be present to win.
“It’s fostering a community of being in school, being present,” said Assistant Principal Nancy Reyna. “It creates that connection between staff and students…in hopes that they want to be there every day.”
Incentives for good attendance have proven to be more effective than punitive measures, attendance team members say.
“We’re just shifting the culture here at our site, so…kids want to be here, they don’t want to miss anything that’s happening,” said Rustic Lane Elementary School Principal Allison Hesler. Rustic Lane’s efforts to address absenteeism led to them having the most improved attendance rates in the district, with a 14.2 percent reduction in chronic absenteeism between the 2021-2022 and 2022-23 school years.
Fun and no or low-cost incentives have helped. The “Not Our Bell” program, for example, allows students in classes with perfect attendance for 10 days straight to ignore the bell to go back inside after recess, and instead get a little more recess time. Monthly barbecues also are popular.
Empathy for those who struggle also is making an impact, Ms. Hesler said.
“If a student walks in tardy, it’s ‘Hey, we’re happy to see you. Glad you made it.’ rather than ‘Why are you late? Why didn’t you get here on time?’ We want kids to feel welcome here. Just getting them to have that connection to a really welcoming environment is far more beneficial than penalizing them for not coming.”
Most importantly, Ms. Alferez said, help is available for families. They just need to ask.
“We have a support system in place to try to help them overcome those needs,” Ms. Alferez said. “Everyone is here to help. We have so many resources not only at our school sites but as a district and in our community of many individuals that are willing to …step in and help the families.”