“A system I’ve been in since I was 13 years old has done nothing but imprison me, strip me away from any possibilities of actually healing, sends me back into the streets only to end up back within these walls again. What type of restoration is that?” – paraphrased from Shonda Rhimes’ season 4 opening of “How to Get Away with Murder.”
If we truly want to know where are our children are, we must start within our homes and communities. There has been a decline in youth departments within churches, community recreation centers and even schools.
Where are our children? More importantly, are we making schools a place where children feel empowered and protected?
Recently I’ve interviewed parents about the importance of attendance and enrollment in schools. Enrollment not only in traditional public schools but in some public charter schools is declining. What is happening in these places where our children are not in school?
Here are some of the things I’ve found out that are affecting school attendance and enrollment:
- Displaced families
- Unwelcoming school environments
- Cyber bullying and violence
- Academic rigor
- Lack of passion and vision
We will still see the effects of gentrified neighborhood across America for the next 10-15 years. Families who have lived in generational poverty and lower-income communities. Displaced families are more common in schools than ever as families are constantly trying to find secure housing and living conditions.
Not only does this affect enrollment, but also student attendance. A lot of students are delayed in getting to school on time or at all. Displacement of families due to the lack of affordable or housing and transportation will continue to be a growing issue and concern. Students can’t learn if they aren’t able to get to school.
Unwelcoming school environments turn away not only parents and students but faculty and staff too. When people don’t feel respected, appreciated or engaged, they will not be invested. It’s impossible to have a good school with low morale.
Cyber-bullying and violence in schools play a huge role in why parents are choosing other options. Safety is still a key priority for parents in determining where they send and keep their children enrolled.
Class attendance also reflects this. When there are a lot of students cutting classes, it goes beyond just a management issue. It becomes a safety risk! If students are not in classes during school hours, then where are they?
I firmly believe that when schools have solid academic rigor, students will be in class. How are we capturing and stimulating the minds of our students? Too often I hear that students are bored in classes. If those leading the classrooms aren’t empowered to make a difference in the lives of those they teach, then we are leaving every child behind.
We cannot depend on the gifted and talented scholars to just learn on their own and scholars with behavior and learning disabilities to sit quietly and not learn at all. Learning is fun, nosy, organized and loud at times. We have to get out of the mindset that a completely quiet classroom is providing rigorous activities for students to learn.
What can be done to improve attendance and enrollment in schools:
- Have program offerings that attract parents, i.e. Culture, Student Life/activities, Before Care, After School, Family Engagement programs
- Set attendance requirements and stick to them
- Have Social Workers/Attendance Clerks set Attendance Incentives and Agreements with chronic late offenders
- Build strong cultures so that morale and vision are high points of success
- Ensure student engagement is apart of the work
- Recognize successes with students thriving with attending school daily and getting to classes on time
- Focus on what’s working more and strategically work to improve other areas