Every Student, Every Day

Danny wasn’t coming to school. When he would come, he sat quietly in his seat, eyes downcast. His academic advisor had noticed he was in school less and less and was disconnected. She followed a ladder of intervention, which guided her to reach out to his teachers and the guidance counselor. As his advisor, she knew her students well, because she cycled with them for all four years of high school. When Danny wasn’t in class, the entire school team engaged in supporting his return.

Today, the U.S. Department of Education—in partnership with the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice—launch Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism to raise awareness about our national chronic absenteeism problem and to support states, school districts, communities, and schools that are committed to solving this problem. Typically defined as missing at least 10% or more of school days in a year for any reason, excused or unexcused, chronic absenteeism affects as many as 7.5 million kids a year and is a strong predictor of low academic achievement and high school drop out.

It is common knowledge that in order to learn, kids need to be in school. Yet, Danny’s story is familiar to all of us. Many of our children are not attending school on a regular basis, causing them to fall further behind.

Children cannot be anonymous. Oftentimes, if a child has been away from school for an extended period of time, they fear returning. When they enter class, they are so far behind, it seems impossible to catch up. And so the cycle continues. They no longer return to school – they are further removed from learning, disenfranchised and lost.

The teacher action plan is one example of how a school provided guidance to all educators in the building to support students. The counselor worked with social services and arranged home visits. We learned that Danny was a homeless gay youth, struggling with his identity and his family. There were many obstacles stopping Danny from coming to school.

In the end? Danny graduated and went to college. He emailed his advisor and guidance counselor, telling them “you saved my life. Thank you.” For a young man who was lost in the world, school gave him an anchor. His teachers noticed, and his counselor provided supports.

This approach is critical to combatting chronic absenteeism. It wasn’t just that his teachers cared. It was that the school had a comprehensive, clear system to help all stakeholders support this child. Teachers could follow a plan that they had a voice in crafting.

It truly takes a village to raise a child. We talk a lot about college and career readiness, but if the child is not sitting in his seat in school, he cannot learn. This story is the story of my school, and how through teacher leadership, a team approach, and a commitment to teaching the whole child, we were able to help this young man achieve his potential. What’s your story? How can we help all our children get to school, and stay there, every day?

To learn more about Every Student, Every Day: A National Initiative to Address and Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism, please visit: http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/chronicabsenteeism/index.html.

 Alicia Pérez-Katz is a Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.