The pandemic has increased chronic absenteeism in schools across the country. Attendance rates have long been used as a metric for measuring early warning and student performance. Chronic absenteeism goes a step further by measuring the number of days a student misses as well as the number of students who miss 10% or more of the school year. Not surprisingly, chronically absent students are at-risk of academic failure, dropping out, and even criminal behavior.
This fall schools will be focused on getting students comfortable in the classroom again, and these efforts are going to require all hands on deck. As part of a multifaceted plan to increase attendance rates, social and emotional learning (SEL) can help. A supportive, culturally responsive learning environment can motivate students to attend and can act as a buffer against external factors that may cause absenteeism. At the same time, when students feel they have strong connections with their teachers, they also tend to feel safe and valued at school, which can also decrease chronic absenteeism.
Chronic absenteeism is a problem that has only gotten worse because of the pandemic. Since March 2020, student absences in some districts have doubled. Student enrollment has also significantly declined in many areas. An estimated 3 million of the “most educationally marginalized students” nationwide have lost access to their education or have stopped attending school.
The coronavirus outbreak caused many stressors for students and families such as unemployment, inadequate technology and internet access, and food and housing insecurity. In addition, online and distance learning impacted many students’ ability to form strong relationships with their teachers, feel connected to school, and engage in learning.
Schools are doing their best to tackle this problem. Efforts include programs where school staff reach out to every student on a regular and ongoing basis to check how they are doing. Schools are also conducting door-to-door home visits, sometimes supported by members of the community like police officers, community-based organizations, and social workers.
SEL can help schools reduce chronic absenteeism and improve attendance rates. Much research shows that improving a school’s climate and culture is an important way to achieve this goal. For example, a study by the Hamilton Project found that schools have lower absentee rates when students feel their school climate and culture is caring and supportive of them.
SEL programs can play an integral role in improving school climate and culture, especially in schools with diverse student populations. This, in turn, can reduce chronic absences. In addition, SEL can increase student achievement and promote prosocial behaviors such as kindness, empathy, sharing, and compassion. SEL programs also can engage students in learning, get them excited about school, and reduce depression and stress — all factors critical to student attendance.
SEL also helps schools dispel a culture of chronic absenteeism by creating safe, caring, and supportive environments where all students feel accepted and can thrive.
There are many ways schools and districts can start using SEL to improve climate and culture within school- and district-wide practices, classroom instruction, assessment, and family and community outreach. Activities may include:
Tackling chronic absenteeism requires a multi-pronged approach. Building a positive and caring school climate and culture with SEL can increase attendance and student motivation. Read our whitepaper, “Chronic Absenteeism: A National Crisis” to learn more.
Even though educators have their work cut out for them to reduce chronic rates of absences this fall, this crisis does present an opportunity to make schools stronger and more conducive to learning. Building a positive school climate and culture with SEL can create positive learning environments that have long-lasting impacts on student engagement and achievement.
Our experts at Aperture Education can help you reduce chronic absences through an effective SEL program in your school or district. Contact our SEL advisors today!