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  • Tony Wold, Ed.D.

Guess What's Back, Back Again?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented disruptions to the lives of students and educators across the globe. Every school population is still addressing the lingering Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) issues that became pronounced after long periods of isolation. Part of the most important aspect of adolescence is the opportunity to interact and engage socially with your peer group. During this formative time, we can learn that we are all different and still play and learn together.

For some reason, everyone almost every adult I talk to can vividly remember a day in those formative years when they were playing, learning, and enjoying something with a collective group of peers that were of all colors, language levels, and physical developmental stages and none of that mattered. As adults, and across this nation we are seeing more division than ever with almost a split country when it pertains to politics. At the same time if you ask everyone on each side remembers that vivid moment with nothing but fondness.

School was a place where kids felt connected and this was lost during the pandemic. Last year schools returned to in-person instruction, but we continued to see disrupted learning due to ever-changing quarantine requirements. Through that, we saw increases in chronic absenteeism crossing well past 1 out of every 3 students in all grade levels. The challenges were everywhere! There is work to do at every grade level but today I would like to revisit two of those groups.

Among the most affected by schools closing and having disrupted schedules are our current K-3 learners and those students in 9th and 10th grade. These students have never had a real normal year of school. They have been robbed of the opportunity to experience the fundamental aspects of education, such as building relationships with peers, engaging in hands-on activities, and receiving in-person support from teachers. As a result, these students are facing significant challenges in meeting academic expectations and are struggling to keep up with their peers.

School Innovations & Achievement has been sponsoring me to provide an educator's view on how to support school districts in this challenge of restoring attendance habits. Recently, EdSource reported on our study of absenteeism among students in California which was done in partnership with the California Department of Education. In this report, we reported that attendance has not rebounded as everyone had thought and the chronic absenteeism habits from last year continued at very similar rates again this year.

Chronic absenteeism is a severe problem that must be addressed urgently as it can lead to a wide range of negative consequences, such as lower academic performance, higher dropout rates, and reduced chances of success later in life. In a county that has led the world in innovation and developed a very strong workforce having a generation of students limited will greatly exasperate challenges already being seen with staffing shortages and the fact that declining birth rates will diminish the numbers in the workforce for the foreseeable future (which is a subject for another blog).

It was a good thing that the study, article, and additional attention to the issue of chronic attendance are back in the public eye. As we are about to enter May, we have an opportunity to reflect, build a plan and change our approach to attendance management for the 2023 – 2024 school year.

For our youngest students, the first step is to recognize the importance of foundational competencies in reading, writing, and mathematics. These skills are crucial for academic success, and they must be reinforced and strengthened to ensure that students can build on them in later years which I discussed in a recent interview with KTVU Fox 2 News, we need students to be in school to not only learn their current grades' curriculum but also to shore up any foundational elements that were missed while they were learning remotely during the pandemic as these students move forward to the time where they will need to be able to master academic language proficiency.

For our High School students, understanding the missing experiences of transition that occur during middle school. That time allows a sense of acclimation and experiential maturation with lower consequences for failure than are present in high school. Remember, that a student who fails just 3 courses in 9th grade will not be able to graduate with their peers unless they take a summer makeup or extra period. The transitional burden quickly has the feather break the back impact in attitude, behavior, motivation, and usually, the first indicator is declining attendance.

Absenteeism has emerged as a severe problem, and we must take urgent action to address it. To combat chronic absenteeism, we need to create a positive communication line between school districts, parents, and students. In the 1980’s Sy Sterling did a series of commercials for the Hair Club for Men. If you remember the tagline today, you will instantly understand the critical importance of reinforcement. You will also understand why I believe in using initiatives like The Achievement Initiative by SI&A, we can create a positive communication line between school districts, parents, and students and build a supportive environment that encourages regular attendance. By using this initiative, parents and students feel valued, and schools can build a supportive environment that encourages regular attendance. We owe it to our students to provide them with the education they deserve, and we cannot let chronic absenteeism hinder their progress.

Watch Tony's Interview:

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