Schools combating student absenteeism

At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, a press release from Bristol Public Schools said, the data from the Bristol Schools showed a significant percentage of students were chronically absent (more than 10 percent or chronically tardy). In response to this issue, the release explained, the Bristol Public Schools took up the fight against chronic absence with a cross-sector initiative aimed at helping schools address and solve the root causes of absenteeism.

Addressing and finding solutions became a whole district and community effort spearheaded by Attendance Officer, Erika Treannie, said the release. Treannie, the release said, “worked diligently with district leadership to develop a comprehensive in-school student/family intervention program and marketing campaign. The marketing message was designed to reach the whole community and reinforce the expectation of every student, every day in every school. The benefit; Increase the amount of time a teacher and support staff has to help a student succeed.”

Every facet of the district collaborated to address the issue of chronic absenteeism, said the news release. The district received a grant from the Bristol Education Foundation to purchase large “Attendance Counts!” outdoor banners that are hung at the entrance to every school as a daily reminder to parents and students of the importance of arriving to school every day on time. The district distributed posters to businesses and organizations across the city to remind families of the importance of attendance.

Treannie, said the release, “created an attendance competition among our elementary schools. Refrigerator magnets purchased through a grant from the Barnes Foundation, were given out at kindergarten registration to be a constant reminder about the district’s policy regarding absenteeism. Stickers distributed to kindergarten students during the first few days of school will remind their families of the importance of attendance.”

Treannie initiated programs to target and find solutions to the root cause of the issue, said the news release. She worked with the high school guidance departments and social workers to institute individual attendance plans, the release said. All schools meet with Ms. Treannie every month to see who should get attendance letters and what families needed to come in and have a face to face meeting to develop an attendance improvement plan, said the release.

This year, the release said, Treannie met with over 409 families. During the meetings, various issues were identified which prevented the child from having regular school attendance. From those meetings the schools were able to help connect parents with community/school supports which helped the students attend school on a more regular basis. The release said Treanie collaborated with the Bristol/Burlington health district and local pediatricians to educate them on state laws and create policy changes to support students and their families. Students who have chronic absenteeism the prior year are getting targeted attendance letters prior to this summer, the release said. The district purchased “Attendance Counts” silicon bracelets, which Treannie will give to targeted students.

The data shows the positive impact these interventions have throughout the district by Treannie, school social workers, the guidance department and administrators have made in the district’s attendance data, said the release.

Dr. Michael Dietter has also spearheaded the creation of an SRBI (Science Research Behavior Intervention) attendance manual that is now being used with fidelity throughout the district, the district’s press release said. The benefits of SRBI come from its emphasis on uniting scientific, research-based practices with systems approaches to education, in this instance the social-emotional learning issues associated with chronic absenteeism and tardiness. The primary focus of school based attendance improvement teams, most of which meet monthly, is to identify the underlying “function” of the school refusal and respond accordingly, said the district’s statement.

The Bristol model of intervention has been shared with numerous other districts and has reduced chronic absenteeism in the district by an average of 29 percent, the release said.

Treannie and the schools use frequent progress monitoring using measurements that are “risk indicators,” and based on national norms create brief, easily administered measures that provide a “quick check” to ensure students are progressing and spending more time learning, said the release.

All Schools Chronic chart