Truancy is a multilayered problem that is rarely ever as simple as a child just not wanting to attend school. While each case has to be looked at individually for any truancy prevention to be completely successful, there are some basic questions that you can ask to see if you are on the right track to increasing attendance.
Is my school a place kids want to be? Does my school look friendly and comforting?
If your school is a place that feels cold or unwelcoming to students or parents, then neither will push to have the child there every day. Think about the way your school looks, how inviting it is, or how easy to navigate. It is hard for someone to find the main office, where to register their student, or where is sign in to volunteer? Are their signs that point people in the right direction, or better yet someone to meet them when they come in the door? What procedures do you have in place to help new students at the beginning of the year and anytime they may move to your school. A can of paint and a packet of information for parents can go a long way in making people feel welcome.
Are our lessons engaging? Are there activities for students to take part in?
On a daily basis are classrooms place where students feel safe to make mistakes and grow? Is there active engaging learning taking place? At all grades, are their ways for parents and students to feel connected to the school? At the upper grades, are there activities, clubs, sports, music, etc. for kids to be involved in? Are there supports to help ALL students take part in these activities? This question takes us to our next important question…
Are you supporting the whole child?
A child who does not have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep, a place to bathe, or transportation to get to and from school is more likely to be truant. Most schools provide breakfast and lunch for students in need, but your school may want to look at partnering with organizations that provide food for night and weekends, or you may want to create your own program. Consider having more of your clubs and activities built into your regular school day, so even students who do not have transportation will be able to attend. Set up free transportation options for events that must occur outside of school hours like athletic events or performances.
Are you supporting the whole family?
Truancy is rarely a child only issue. Instability in a family often affects truancy rates as does a family’s status. Parents who do not have their own transportation cannot bring a child to school late if they happen to miss the bus. Parents who speak little or no English often need their English speaking children to be translators and will keep them out of school for this purpose. Instead of punishing students and parents for these needs, partner with community organizations to help provide translation services, transportation, and supports to keep housing stable. If you have older students, see if they or recently graduated students could translate on a volunteer basis. This is a great service to your community and looks excellent on their college and job applications.
Do students see school as their way to a better future? Do they even see that a future is possible?
As students age they tend to lose their belief that they can do or be anything. Self-doubt, which is often reinforced by the outside world, can make their futures look dark or worse yet blank. What does your school have in place to provide mentorship and support to students and to give them opportunity to see real possibilities for their future? Partner with local community organizations and business to have college and career learning opportunities at all grade levels. For older students who have fallen behind in credits, create and clearly communicate with parents and students a plan for getting the student back on the right track.
Solving the problem of truancy is not an easy one, and it is not one that schools can do alone. Schools must partner with students, parents/guardians, and the community to tackle this daunting problem.