Recent news stories have highlighted that chronic absenteeism is a major issue in U.S. schools.
According to data released by the U.S. Department of Education, 13 percent of U.S. students are chronically absent from school (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2013-2014), meaning they miss more than 15 days of school each year.
Maricopa County has traditional (non-alternative) public schools that struggle with chronic absenteeism rates as high as 63 percent, almost five times the national average.
Some alternative schools are dealing with student chronic absentee rates above 80 percent. These youth need additional support to overcome the complex circumstances that cause chronic absenteeism.
“Common sense tells us that if a student isn’t in school, that student will not learn, no matter how skilled and dedicated the teacher is,” said Dr. Don Covey, Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools.
Chronic absenteeism is often a symptom of a student being disengaged from the school community.
If a student has not made a significant connection with a teacher, staff, other students, or an activity, he/she is more likely to stay out of school.
School disengagement is something Covey and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors take very seriously and have worked this past year to address.
In October 2015, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors entered into an agreement with Superintendent Covey and the Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA) to begin providing intervention services to more than 200 youth demonstrating evidence of school disengagement.
MCESA implemented a mentoring program to reconnect students that have been diverted from the juvenile court system back to a supportive school community. Through this agreement, MCESA is also providing professional development to schools on supporting youth with these and other challenges.
Since the program began in early December 2015, MCESA has provided mentoring services to students in 72 schools and professional development to 70 schools throughout Maricopa County.
The program has already had positive effects.
Holly Williams of Mesa Public Schools stated, “We are pleased with this partnership and the positive impact it is having on our students. We see the value of students having a mentor who will meet with them and discuss the importance of attendance and hard work and who will serve as another voice guiding them toward their future goals.”
Cyndi Tercero, Drop Programs Developer in the Phoenix Union High School District commented, “We are thrilled to provide another layer of support for our students who are struggling most with attendance issues. The MCESA mentors and PUHSD student liaisons are working together to identify and eliminate barriers for students. It’s about connecting students to the right services and providing additional support to help them be successful.”
Responding to the positive stories coming out of the mentoring program, Superintendent Covey said, “One of the best educational services the county’s School Superintendent can do is provide the right tools and personnel to support the success of all students. Districts such as Mesa and Phoenix Union are proving that.”