Back to the Basics: Addressing Truancy in Our Schools

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Classroom Application
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Let’s get back to basics. Not in the sense you may think— I’m not going to talk about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Let’s go even MORE basic. Most simply stated, in order to learn, kids need to be physically at school. August is National Truancy Prevention Month, so there is no better time to discuss this undeniably important topic. According to the U.S. Department of Education data, nearly 8 million students nationwide were reported chronically absent (defined as missing 15 or more days in the school year)  from school in 2015-16, representing 16 percent of all K-12 students. That’s up by a million or more students from the last national count in 2013-14, when 14 percent of students were reported as chronically absent. (Sparks p1)

So, how do we understand the root causes of truancy and work to prevent chronic absenteeism in some of our (undoubtedly) most vulnerable students? I have some ideas from my personal experiences, specifically during my time as a high school assistant principal, that I’d love to share with you and also see what you may have to share too!

I think the most important thing to stress is that tracking and positively impacting attendance at your school is tedious, but the best way to make a positive impact is to commit to stay on top of the issue and to formulate a plan of action. It’s critical to enlist the support of your staff in various capacities—don’t do it alone!

Here’s my story:

Our process began with monthly attendance meetings, comprised of a team of teachers, school counselor(s), and administrators that would discuss our “frequent fliers” (we established a threshold for determining these students). *An additional side note—we had interdisciplinary teams of teachers who shared the same students, so each team had a separate meeting with us only to discuss “their” students. During these meetings, we came up with a plan of action, which included a staff member “agent” who would begin to foster a more focused relationship with the student and begin to understand the underlying issues and work to combat them.

The key to this is that it always came from a place of caring, kindness, and support. Phrases such as “we missed you yesterday” and “I miss seeing you when you’re not in school” were common words we used to show our students it matters when they aren’t at school (or conversely, when they are!). Additionally, the “agent” began to build a school-home relationship, educating our parents about the importance of daily attendance, as well. We documented all of this, so we had a record of what we tried, the outcome, and the cumulative attendance of each student. This process worked wonders for us and led our very diverse population of students to have some of the highest attendance rates in our large district.

As a last point of emphasis, we also had a very supportive truancy officer who worked with our district. He added a layer of support and brought in the harsh reality of the law, although done in a very supportive manner to our students.

Want to know more nitty-gritty about how this system worked for my school at the time? Feel free to reach out and I’d be more than willing to share. Or, tell us what you’ve found successful!

Works Cited

Sparks, Sarah D. “How Many Students Are Chronically Absent in Your State? Federal Data Show Rates Rising.” Education Week – Inside School Research, Editorial Projects in Education, 26 Apr. 2018,

About the author: Katy Garvey

Katy Garvey is the Social Learning Manager for Source for Learning, the non-profit parent company of TeachersFirst. She began her education career teaching Spanish before entering into administration. A former middle school principal, Katy spends her free time exercising and with her family.

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