Education is the key to unlock our children’s futures. But in order to reap the benefits of experiences in the classroom, we need to help students get there. When young people miss school, they miss fundamental building blocks.
Student absence depends on a vast array of unique school and home environments. It may be a chronic health condition like asthma that has not been addressed. It may be a lack of resources to safely travel to school. Sometimes students are embarrassed to show up because they do not have clean clothes. They may be bullied by classmates. Or they may have enormous responsibilities that they cannot control, like taking care of a sick parent or watching younger siblings when their parents are at work. Many modern work schedules require parents to get up early or stay at work late, leaving some without anyone to see them off to school or check in with them on their way home.
For these reasons and many others, 6.8 million students do not attend school regularly and miss 10 percent or more of the school year – making them “chronically absent” – according to Attendance Works, which promotes school attendance.
To improve resources and support for young people who are chronically absent, schools need tools to coordinate with parents, teachers, and community members. That is why we partnered together to introduce the bipartisan Chronic Absenteeism Reduction Act, which allows local educational agencies to implement evidence-based programs aimed at increasing attendance. This legislation prioritizes efforts to link students with school-based mentors and caring adults from their community. And it allows school districts to improve their attendance tracking systems so that they can share data at the individual level with students, families, teachers, and principals and initiate immediate interventions. Simple techniques such as alerting parents about their child’s missed assignments have been shown to increase attendance by 17 percent.
The mentoring and education fields have joined forces to elevate what we know works and stand ready to implement these best practices. This legislation is based on proven, effective models across the country. Case in point: Ohio and more than 10 other states so far are taking the opportunity to track chronic absence as a part of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. In this era of big data, asking our educational partners to track attendance more effectively will lead to greater responses – and will provide an opportunity for district leadership, policymakers, and community partners to impact significant change for our nation’s students.
Relationships matter to all of us, but for a young person, relationships can be the key to success. Mentors help students build the social-emotional skills today’s employers demand. By also developing these skills in the classroom we set students up for success in the workplace. Research shows that students who regularly meet with their mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip school.
We are missing out on the full potential of almost seven million students because they are absent. In order for them to show up at school, we need to show up for them. With your individual actions, we can create collective change, whether that’s volunteering as a mentor or advocating for the passage of this legislation. One thing we can all agree upon? We cannot leave critical connections for young people to chance.
Congressman Tim Ryan represents Ohio’s 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. David Shapiro is CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.