Florida is among a handful of states that track absenteeism. In 2009-10, Florida included graduation rates in the formula to calculate grades for high schools. To improve graduation rates, school administrators began to focus more on attendance.
In Broward, administrators meet regularly to spot students showing the early signs of chronic absenteeism. The district’s response can be anything from a simple sit-down meeting with parents to enlisting the help of a school social worker. In extreme cases, the district can take the matter to court, alleging the criminal charge of parental neglect.
Broward also tries to encourage good attendance by rewarding those who reliably come to school. The district sends framed certificates to students with near-perfect attendance, and pulled out all the stops in May for South Broward High School senior Christina Monroe, who made headlines for never missing a day of school in her life.
The Broward School Board responded by awarding Monroe a renewable $1,000 college scholarship. Miami Heat mascot “Burnie” showed up at the ceremony, and promptly gave Monroe and her family free playoff tickets.
In Miami-Dade, many schools give similar incentives, said Deborah Montilla, a district director of student services. School counselors and teachers use curriculum, especially for key transition years, to stress the importance of being in school.
This year, Montilla said health teams in more than 150 schools are encouraged to help monitor attendance, since health problems can prevent regular attendance. Collaboration with community-based groups is also essential to address chronic absenteeism and finding students who aren’t even enrolled in school. “The real key is determining if a student isn’t coming to school what the reason is so we can approach that together,” Montilla said.
For attendance, City Year members follow three steps. First, they line up by the school entrance, almost creating a red carpet in their trademark red jackets, and greet students as they arrive with chants like “Pump it, Pump it up.”
Second, if a student is absent, corps members call the home. That personal outreach sends a strong message to students, said Saif Ishoof, executive director of City Year.
They call even if a student misses a few days—before the five-day trigger that prompts a look from the administration in Miami-Dade and Broward.
And thirdly, kids who need extra attention join lunch-time mentoring with the youthful City Year members. They also try to make the school more welcoming with murals and other beautification projects.
It worked at Miami Jackson Senior, the first Miami-Dade high school to partner with City Year in 2010-11.
The long-struggling school also earned its first A grade that year, when Miami Jackson had the district’s highest increase in attendance, Ishoof said.
“We know that something that might seem simple actually has a profound impact on the student,” he said.