Texas schools find creative ways to keep kids from chronic absences
August 6, 2018 | by Steffi Lee

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — At William B. Travis Early College High School, about a quarter of its roughly 1,400 students are deemed chronically absent, missing just over three school weeks in a year. Leaders have taken innovative steps to address the ongoing issue.

“We look for private partners who want to come in and mentor our children,” principal Ty Davidson said.

Staff members of the high school also volunteer to mentor students and rising seniors who participate in the peer mentoring program are trained to work with freshmen with low attendance rates.

“You have to get smart about what you do and there’s no better people that are going to help the students in your community than the people who actually work, live and love the place,” Davidson said.

During E3 Alliance’s attendance summit Monday, Davidson and other school officials shared ways they’ve been able to tackle chronic absenteeism with limited resources. They also learned about the root causes affecting a student’s ability to make it to school.

“There’s a wide range of reasons that students are absent,” E3 Alliance President and Executive Director Susan Dawson said. “The number one reason is acute illness and we don’t want them there if they’re going to be sick, feverish or contagious to other children. Many, many students are missing because of issues at home, because of trauma, because of lack of transportation, taking care of siblings – a whole variety of issues that impact their ability to be at school and learn.”

The flu is often the number one health issue causing students to miss school, Dawson said.

“We have a region-wide flu immunization campaign to get many more students vaccinated against the flu,” she said.

Chronic absenteeism can also impact school funding.

“The average high school loses about $20,000 in funding every single week due to student attendance,” Dawson said. ”Because students are absent, schools don’t get revenue from the state of Texas, so it’s both an issue for students who miss their ability to learn and schools who lose funding due to chronic absences.”

Educating parents should also be part of the solution, Dawson said.

“Most parents don’t understand how many days are actually missed and how that impacts their ability for their student to achieve. Whether it’s because you’re leaving early for a vacation, whether you think that you just don’t have time to get them to school that day, there’s a whole variety of reasons why students miss and then they miss out on learning.”

Davidson says even with limited resources, schools can get creative in order to lower chronic absenteeism rates.

“Are we strapped? Yes,” he said. “Are there solutions? Absolutely.”