No clean clothes. Doctor’s appointments. Cold and flu. Transportation. Bullying. Depression. Dental issues.
These are some of the many reasons students gave to explain why they miss school. The P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, a nonprofit partnership that works to increase student achievement in San Antonio, conducted a survey last year of more than 200 students in a local school district to determine the root causes of absenteeism and analyze them.
Since 2011, P16Plus’s SA Kids Attend to Win initiative has led the charge to increase school attendance by helping students who are chronically absent. Being able to address chronic absenteeism requires an understanding of what underlying issues are causing students to miss school.
At the annual P16Plus September Attendance Awareness event, the stories of two students highlighted the different struggles with absenteeism.
One student’s challenge was related to transportation. Savannah’s mother worked early mornings, leaving the responsibility of getting up and catching the bus entirely on the student. Because there was no alternative transportation and because she lived too far from school to walk, if Savannah missed the bus, she missed school.
Angel, a high school student, struggled with attendance in 10th grade. With her mother working hard to make ends meet and battling depression, Angel made a decision that, too often, young adults are forced to make: choose earning an income to support family over schooling. Angel left school and went to work. She battled her own depression in addition to the heavy load she was already carrying.
Both of these students turned their situations around. They credit a support network at their schools, including their friends, teachers who believed in them, and community organizations. What they want people to understand about absenteeism is that the causes aren’t always things that they can control, and blaming them for those circumstances will not resolve the issue.
“The hidden causes of missing school must be revealed and addressed,” said Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, executive director of the P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County. “Otherwise, we are just letting young minds fall through the cracks.”
We at P16Plus are dedicated to uncovering the root causes of school absenteeism. Our hope is to have a county-wide student root-cause analysis that will amplify student voice and reveal where we must work together as a community to ensure our youth are making it to school and at school.
City officials recognize the importance of attendance and the impact it has on academics.
“P16Plus is doing such important work in addressing chronic absence in our schools,” said Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw (D2), who delivered the September Attendance Awareness Proclamation this month. “The first step toward educational success is showing up.”
P16Plus is headquartered in District 2.
“Students with strong attendance records are far more likely to succeed than children with poor attendance,” wrote Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7). “We’ve seen this time and again in our classrooms. That’s why I applaud P16Plus’s work to improve attendance rates in schools across San Antonio.”
Last year, 47% of overall absences within the 58 participating SA Kids Attend to Win campuses were chronically absent students. About 25% of students in the 12th grade were absent and 43% of chronically absent students had at least one out-of-school suspension. At the beginning of every year, P16Plus identifies students who are chronically absent at every campus. Fifty-nine percent of students who were chronically absent at the beginning of the school year improved their attendance by the end of the school year. For more information and data, visit www.p16plus.org.
As the SA Kids Attend to Win initiative grows and evolves, what we know for certain is that it takes a community to ensure the academic success of our young San Antonians. We cannot afford to ignore the root causes of absenteeism, because they are telling. The root causes of absenteeism will help guide us, policymakers, parents, schools, and the entire community in the direction of where we should focus our interventions. When we pay attention to the student voice and take time to listen, we hear things that perhaps sometimes the data is not able to inform.
This is why we will continue our dedication to San Antonio students, especially those who are made most vulnerable by their circumstances, because we should never be okay with circumstances being the reason why our youth don’t succeed.