Newsletter (April 27, 2023)

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Chronic absenteeism is a critical issue that disproportionately affects vulnerable students, particularly those experiencing homelessness. According to recent data, the chronic absence rate among homeless students in the 2020-2021 school year was a staggering 41.9%, which is more than double the rate of housed students (20.3%).

This trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has further deepened the inequities faced by homeless students. Yet homelessness is often overlooked in efforts to re-engage students and increase regular school attendance. In fact, educators may not even be aware that homelessness is contributing significantly to their overall chronic absence and retention problems, since homelessness is often hidden and hard to identify.

Here are some strategies that have been effective in supporting the attendance of students experiencing homelessness: 

  1. Train attendance staff to proactively and sensitively ask about housing stability when following up on attendance issues.
  2. Implement attendance monitoring and early warning systems that are specifically and intentionally inclusive of, and responsive to, students experiencing homelessness.
  3. Provide flexible transportation supports.
  4. Help students experiencing homelessness meet their basic needs, such as laundry, clothing, and hygiene.
  5. Dedicate staff time to maintaining contact and communications with families, including through cell phones and home visits.

Supporting the Attendance of Students Experiencing Homelessness

Get examples of strategies that schools, districts, and communities are implementing to help ensure that students experiencing homelessness are in school, every day.

Here are just a few specific examples:

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia hired an Attendance Specialist to address chronic absenteeism. In a recent interview with Kathi Scheffel, the Homeless Liaison for Fairfax County Public Schools, she shared ten ways to combat chronic absenteeism using ARP-HCY funds. 

☐ Lafayette Parish Schools hired a full-time Identification Specialist who ensures that individualized services are provided based on each child’s unique needs assessment, whether through community resources or school-based supports. [See What This Program Provides.]

❖ Lawton Public Schools in Oklahoma is addressing attendance and absenteeism by using ARP-HCY funds to provide cell phones to unaccompanied homeless youth, purchasing a vehicle for transportation, and hiring mentors and outreach specialists to support students experiencing homelessness. [Get More Strategies Here]

◉ Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) in Ohio have implemented a mentorship program to address chronic absenteeism among students experiencing homelessness. The program, which is funded by ARP-HCY Part I and Part II funds, pairs a mentor with each student experiencing homelessness and ensures that they meet a minimum of twice per month for at least 30 minutes during the school day. Mentors log their contact with the mentee and their parent/guardian, tracking attendance, grades, goals, needs, and referrals. Thanks to the mentorship program, WCHCS has identified over 100 students experiencing homelessness, up from an average of 65 the previous year. [Learn How They Did It]

1. Using Chronic Absence Data to Identify and Support Students Experiencing Homelessness. This blog explores how chronic absence data can be used to support students experiencing homelessness. Experts emphasize the importance of accurately tracking attendance and utilizing data to intervene early and provide necessary support.

2. Five Questions with Sue Lenahan: Addressing Chronic Absenteeism. Sue shares insights from her experience working with homeless students and offers practical solutions for addressing absenteeism, including building relationships with families, providing transportation assistance, and utilizing community resources. Sue’s expertise highlights the critical need for schools to take a proactive approach to addressing absenteeism among homeless students.

3. Five Questions with Tina Marie: How My Education Helped Me Push Through Adversity. Tina Marie discusses her experiences with homelessness and absenteeism as a student, and how she was able to push through these challenges with the help of education. She answers five questions about her journey, emphasizing the impact that attendance and educational support had on her success.

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