Missouri school district implements measures to address chronic absenteeism

In the heartland, school districts are facing a persistent challenge of improving student attendance, and this issue is prevalent in both Kansas and Missouri.

Chronic absenteeism refers to a situation where a student is absent for more than 10% of school days in an academic year.

In 2023, the state of Kansas witnessed a significant 21% of students being chronically absent. On the other hand, Missouri faced an even higher rate, with nearly 25% of all students in the state being chronically absent during the same year. These numbers highlight the concerning issue of absenteeism among students in both states.

Chronic absenteeism in Missouri experienced a significant surge after 2020. School districts in Missouri, like Lawson R-XIV, attribute this ongoing issue to the impact of the pandemic.

Lawson, like many other districts, is grappling with the issue of chronic absenteeism. State data reveals that prior to 2020, over 90% of Lawson students attended school 90% of the time. However, since 2020, this rate has been gradually declining and currently stands at 85%, which is still above the state average.

KSHB 41 News interviewed the administrative staff, teachers, counselors, and parents in Lawson to understand how the district is addressing chronic absenteeism in all grade levels.

Parents

Bailey Calton, a parent from Southwest Elementary School, found it quite amusing to watch kindergartners struggling to maintain their attention during virtual video calls. She observed that the challenge was even more pronounced when the children were at home.

Southwest Elementary School, situated in Lawson, is currently the educational institution where two of Calton’s children are enrolled. Calton, along with Hannah Akey, another parent at Southwest, disclosed to KSHB 41 that absences are a rare occurrence for their families due to their strong longing to be back in school.

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Akey expressed her excitement about returning to school, not only because her children were eager to see their friends again, but also because they were tired of being confined at home. She emphasized her active involvement in the school community and praised the excellent communication between the school and the teachers.

If a student within the district has an unexcused absence, a staff member will contact the student’s parents by phone. If the initial contact is unsuccessful, an administrator will then follow-up. In the case of continued absences, a notice will be sent home and a welfare check may be requested.

Counselors

Southwest Elementary believes that parental involvement plays a vital role in maintaining low student absences. However, despite this, there are still some students who consistently miss school.

“Our teachers are present every day, diligently imparting lessons and essential skills to our students. If they are absent, our students suffer, falling behind and facing a cascade of challenges,” explained Marissa Schmidt, the counselor at Southwest Elementary School.

Schmidt mentioned that although chronic absences are infrequent at her school, some students are struggling with high levels of anxiety which is having a significant impact on their well-being. To address this issue, Schmidt implemented mindfulness lessons at Southwest. These lessons aim to teach students breathing exercises, emotional awareness, and techniques to manage stress and anxiety.

According to Schmidt, there have been a few instances where separation anxiety has resulted in chronic absenteeism among students. He emphasizes that children are valued and their success is important to both parents and educators. Schmidt believes that parents are generally understanding and open to addressing these concerns.

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Teachers

Rebecca Harrold, a world history teacher at Lawson High School, has noticed a rise in the number of family vacations taken during the academic year. She believes that some parents mistakenly believe that their children can keep up with their studies even when they are away from the classroom.

According to Harrold, without the students being physically present, it becomes nearly impossible to fully compensate for the lack of interaction and understanding, particularly when it comes to comprehending the material. The inability to have direct contact and check in with the students makes it challenging to address their individual needs effectively. Harrold emphasizes that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to create personalized plans for every student in this remote learning environment.

According to Harrold, some students are choosing to forgo their textbooks and enter the workforce early, while others are leaving for family vacations (KSHB 41).

According to Harrold, there is a group of individuals who prefer to go to work, but unfortunately, they lack engagement. They exhibit a lack of motivation as they fail to submit their work and fail to see the purpose behind it. This loss of intrinsic motivation affects a number of children.

Administration

The administrative staff at Lawson has been prioritizing the reduction of chronic absences. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stated that Missouri schools receive partial payment based on student attendance reported by the school district. This sets Missouri apart from many other states, as they have a funding system that is based on enrollment rather than attendance.

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Stephenson notes that chronic absences are predominantly observed in high school and middle school, where parental involvement tends to decrease.

Stephenson expressed his concern about a common misconception among parents as their children transition into middle school. He believes that parents often develop a false sense of their children being raised and assume that they no longer require their support. However, Stephenson argues that this is far from the truth. He emphasizes that parents should actually be even more engaged and involved in their children’s lives during their middle school and high school years compared to their elementary school years.

In an effort to address chronic absenteeism, Lawson schools have implemented various incentives each semester. These incentives range from cash prizes to even ice cream parties, all of which are designed to reward and celebrate perfect attendance.

Stephenson stated that it is not uncommon for both wealthy and low-income families to face a similar dilemma where their children lack interest and motivation to be actively involved in various activities.

One school district is going above and beyond to ensure that their students are present and engaged in their education. If you want to find out more about how chronic absenteeism is being tackled in your district, click on this link .

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