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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How Detroit school is trying to get students to show up

Attendance agent visits a classroom at a Detroit school with high absenteeism. Photo: Emily Elconin/Chalkbeat

Mentors, home visits, data analysis and movie visits for students and grocery gift cards for parents are among the strategies used to get students to show up at Gompers Elementary-Middle School in Detroit.

Last year, the school lowered its chronic absentee rate from a horrendous 82 percent to a still terrible 64 percent, report Ethan Bakuli and Tracie Mauriello for Chalkbeat.

Some parents in the high-poverty neighborhood say they keep their children home because they don't have a clean uniform to wear. The principal encouraged parents to send their children to school in whatever clothes they have.

By January 2023, Haydin Griggs had missed about 50 days of the school year, primarily because her mother, Shetaya Griggs, had health problems that often prevented her from walking her daughter to school, and she didn’t want the sixth-grader walking to school on her own in their rough neighborhood.

High absenteeism burdens teachers. "By May, more than half of the 50 third-graders La’Dawn Peterson taught between her morning and afternoon math classes were chronically absent," write Bakuli and Mauriello. "An additional nine were severely chronically absent, meaning they had missed more than 36 days of school." One missed more than a third of the classes.

She tries to use weekly small-group lessons to catch up absent or struggling students, they write. But chronic absentees aren't always there for that either. "Most of the ones that are absent all the time … there’s no motivation at home,” Peterson said. “So they come to school, and they’re not motivated to do anything.”

Effie Harris, the school's attendance agent, is part investigator, part counselor and part cheerleader, Mauriello and Bakuli write. She shows up in classrooms "with prizes — pencil cases, Hot Wheels cars, bubbles — for students who make it two weeks without missing a day. She plans pizza parties for classes with the best attendance, and helps teachers plan fun activities that children won’t want to miss."

As a district, Detroit's chronic absentee rate "fell from the peak of 77% in 2021-22 to 68% last year, Chalkbeat reports.

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