Chronic Absenteeism a Problem for Some Young Students

It likely goes without saying that you can't learn unless you're in the classroom. Missing a day here or there for illness or emergencies is one thing, but missing more than 18 days per year becomes a problem known as chronic absenteeism. From Oakland, California to Newport, Rhode Island, chronic absenteeism is an issue many schools realize they must not only face but eradicate.

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effects of chronic absenteeism

Off to a Bad Start

Many might believe that chronic absenteeism is a problem most encountered in middle or high schools, but studies show that the pattern of habitually missing school starts at an early age. Experts and school officials agree that students in sixth grade and higher who are missing more than 20 days of school per year were doing so in elementary and even in preschool.

But the worry that chronic absenteeism in younger kids can lead to continued truancy in later grades is not the only concern, nor is the fact that students who have missed a lot of school but move on to the next grade are at an academic disadvantage. Studies show chronic absenteeism can lead to higher chances of dropping out of school and even to increased risk of alcohol or drug abuse.

Low Income Students Most Likely to Miss Days

A recent study by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity links poverty and race to chronic absenteeism. More than 90% of black and Hispanic students included in the study qualified for free or reduced lunches, and 20% of those students were chronically absent (compared to 12% for white students from a better economic background).

For example: in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago's South Side, just over 80% of preschoolers and 36% of kindergarteners missed 18 days or more in the 2009-10 academic year. In 2009, the median household income in Greater Grand Crossing was just under $34,000 and demographics from the same year show that more than 95% of residents are black.

Addressing the Problem

So what are schools across the country doing to combat chronic absenteeism? Everything and anything, it seems, from making phone calls to offering prizes.

Some have worked with social service agencies to provide community-based support for families. In Chicago, some schools are presenting contracts parents can sign that promises they will get their children to school. At Public School 309 in Brooklyn, New York, students mark each month without a day missed by adding a colorful pendant to a necklace.

New York City is using a campaign called 'Wake Up! NYC', in which automated voices of celebrities such as Magic Johnson or New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes call the more than 6,500 city students who have missed ten days or more to tell them to 'get your education'. And whether that's coming from Magic Johnson, the mayor of New York City or your parents, that's always good advice to follow.

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