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School districts facing a chronic absenteeism crisis

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Posted at 1:47 PM, Oct 25, 2022

School districts across the country are seeing a rise in chronic absenteeism.

Sarah Leonard and Kristi Besouzek teach at Ashland Park-Robbins Elementary in Omaha, Nebraska. They say it's critical for students to be in class.

“First graders are getting their numbers and using them in, like, equations and processes. And we’re really learning to read, basically,” Leonard said.

“It’s frustrating for the kids because they walk in and they know that they’ve missed something important,” Besouzek added.

A report from the Department of Education found in 2016 that one in six students had missed at least 15 days of school. Absenteeism is linked to lower academic performance and higher dropout rates

Lisa Utterback oversees student services for Omaha Public Schools, which launched a campaign to improve attendance.

“It all boils down to culture. We know that when students have a positive adult in the school that they can connect with every day, they are more apt to come,” Utterback said.

Nicole Seymour, who runs Omaha’s GOALS Center, is on a mission to aid absentee children with support and services outside of school.

“And it’s a challenge for the parents, especially if they are focusing their efforts on, you know, ‘What do you have for dinner? Where are they going to get their resources? How are they going to pay their utility bills?’” Seymour said.

Various studies have found the greatest influence on student success is parental involvement. In Omaha, the plan may start with teachers.

According to Utterback, it uses virtually every resource at the school to hone in on students who are struggling.

“The social worker should be able to tell you what’s going on. The counselor should be able to tell you what’s going on. If the kid has a lot of absences that are illnesses, the nurses should be able to tell you what’s going on,” she said.

The first step to bridging virtually every gap in education is everyone showing up.

“It makes a difference to be here. And we’re thankful that they are," Leonard said.