Community Schools are neighborhood beacons. They not only provide high quality academic programming for students, but also wrap-around supports to students and their families.
Touted as a core strategy of the current mayoral administration, the NYC DOE, our nation’s largest school system, boasts the most robust community school program in the country. Just last week, the City announced plans to open 69 new Community Schools in 2018. This brings the total in the district to 215 schools. That’s nearly 13 percent of all NYC DOE schools.
But, while NYC’s program may be the largest nationwide, it’s certainly not the first. Studies dating back more than 15 years prove the efficacy of Community Schools from Cincinnati to Redwood City. Impacts of the model include: improved academic performance, stronger family engagement, better student attendance, and safer communities.
Below are Community Schools’ top five attendance improvement strategies. Yours doesn’t need to be a formal Community School to borrow them and see the attendance and academic benefit!
1. Appoint an Attendance Team!
According to Attendance Works, Attendance Teams are comprised of core school faculty and community members who are focused on attendance. They should include administrators, student support staff, like guidance counselors, and could include teachers, Community School Directors, parent coordinators, and other core roles. The team is charged with data analysis to identify broad schoolwide and student-specific attendance and absence trends. Based upon the data, they should identify and strategize implementation of interventions.
National nonprofit, Attendance Works, suggests that schools and districts should think of interventions for students based on a tiered model. Students fall into one of three tiers based on their days missed. Based on their tier, Attendance Works suggests specific interventions that are proven effective.
Attendance Teams can use tools like KiNVO by Kinvolved to monitor chronic absence. Teachers and school faculty can use KiNVO for positive engagement and personal outreach to families.
2. Launch a Success Mentor program!
Success Mentors are AmeriCorps or school-based staff who work closely with a small group of usually two to ten students who are, or in the previous school year were, chronically absent. They closely monitor the students’ attendance, perform outreach to the parents, and follow up with students with positive reinforcement when they are in school and improve attendance patterns.
City Year, a well-known nonprofit program, provides Corps Members to schools nationwide. These Corps Members, in part funded by AmeriCorps grants, provide additional mentorship and supports to reduce chronic absence, so that teachers can remain primarily focused on instruction.
Based on a study by the Everyone Graduates Center, students with Success Mentors gain an average of two additional weeks of school. Further, students with Success Mentors were more likely to exit chronic absence. Those who did were more likely to show academic improvement, and stay in school for at least the two following years of the study.
3. Invite families in, and keep them in the loop!
Research proves that when families are engaged in school, students are more likely to attend, academics improve, and social emotional development increases.
For families, especially those with limited bandwidth due to intensive hours on the job, school engagement activities must be both efficient, and productive. According to the Flamboyan Foundation, which has produced this helpful Family Engagement Rubric, parents don’t just want to come to school for a pizza party. They want to come for the pizza party where they’ll learn strategies to help their children prepare for state exams, for example.
Family engagement doesn’t have to mean physically showing up to a school building, especially in this day and age. Today, almost everyone has a cell phone and can engage in text messaging to stay informed of student attendance, behavior, and course performance. Tools like KiNVO by Kinvolved can help schools and districts engage with families virtually, efficiently, and in a manner that meets everyone’s schedules and needs.
4. Provide valuable health and wellness services!
Schools, whether they are official Community Schools or not, should be the hub of the community. Particularly in high poverty areas, schools have an opportunity to provide a safe and secure, welcoming environment to students and families. As a result of free and reduced lunch programs, they already provide sometimes multiple meals for students whose families struggle to do so.
Healthcare is an equivalent basic need to food. So, it would be in line that schools provide access to these critical services, as well. Schools may not have the resources to pay for these services, but that is ok. There are community and corporate partners that will bring the services, if schools provide the space and access to students and families.
For example, Children’s Health Fund’s Healthy and Ready to Learn program helps schools identify and overcome health care obstacles by identifying community health resources, and bringing them into schools.
In another example, eyeglass company, Warby Parker, launched a free glasses program for all of the 25% of NYC students enrolled in Community Schools, which they estimate to need glasses.
5. Share the workload among community partners!
This work isn’t easy, by any means! But, schools don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. In many communities that face issues of poverty, community partners exist to help. Sometimes, it just takes mutual outreach to identify and solidify the right partnerships.
Programs like Strive offer a framework for Collective Impact, which brings together local community resources towards shared goals. Strive operates in 33 states, supporting sometimes multiple initiatives in local communities in each state.
South Bronx Rising Together, which has taken some learnings from Strive’s success, brings together local resources in the nation’s poorest congressional district. Together, the network has identified core challenges and solutions within the network that do not necessarily require additional, but instead more efficient sharing of resources. One of the network’s primary goals is to provide free supports to local schools to curb chronic absenteeism. Together, the network has agreed upon a target to reduce chronic absence in the community from its current 39.1% to 24.1%, the NYC average, by 2020.
Another national model, Communities in Schools, provides aid to students in need of social and emotional supports, social work, and coordination of resources. They work with other nonprofits, schools, and families to assess needs, coordinate supports, monitor and evaluate progress, and make consistent modifications for caseloads of students in schools.
6. Make school fun, and show interest in the students!
The best way to get students to show up is to make school THE PLACE to be! During the school day, this means ensuring the teachers are engaging, and that content is delivered in exciting ways. Before and after school, this means offer students fun, and cost-effective activities. Research proves that afterschool programs and sports activities that mandate school day attendance to participate, can be effective to elevate attendance.
Programs like Sports and Arts in Schools provide both before and after school activities, as well as academic enrichment to students in high need schools.
In other, often more cost efficient instances, schools can subsidize teachers for extra time coaching sports teams, dance classes, school clubs, and other activities. While these activities are fun for teachers and students, and help strengthen internal relationships, they do add additional time to teachers’ day. So, schools should consider ways to either fund teachers for extra time with students, or lighten the academic load for those teachers. Both academics and extracurriculars are incredibly important to ensuring positive school culture.
Aside from offering activities, teachers and faculty can engage in simple (and free!) practices that students themselves say will get them to school. For example, students say that by simply asking, “Are you ok?” when they return from an absence, they feel noticed. And, they’re more likely to try to get to school the next day.
Official Community Schools and traditional schools alike can benefit from these practices. Implementing even just one or two of the above can make a dramatic impact on a school and its students and families.
At Kinvolved, we are proud to partner with Community Schools across New York City, Atlanta, and soon in several new cities. To learn more, join our movement!
Miriam Altman is CEO and Co-Founder of Kinvolved. She is co-leader of the Attendance Subcommittee for South Bronx Rising Together, and a former NYC DOE high school educator.