Connections: Using Family Outreach to Reduce Students' Chronic Absenteeism

As educators focus on improving student attendance statewide, EASTCONN is working with its own high school magnets and Windham Public Schools to improve attendance among students who are chronically absent. 

“Statewide family surveys indicate there are many reasons why students are missing classes,” said Diane Dugas,
EASTCONN’s Director of Leading and Learning, “and the pandemic is magnifying all of them.”

Surveys list powerful family concerns, including a fear of COVID-related illness for a family member, a lack of transportation, sibling child-care needs, difficulty with technology and unreliable internet connections, among many others. 

Over the summer, EASTCONN, Windham and educators across the state joined the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP) to address chronic absenteeism challenges. LEAP is sponsored by the CSDE.

Developed in collaboration with the RESC Alliance, Attendance Works and Parent Teacher Home Visits, the state’s LEAP program trains and sends out district educators and liaisons to build positive, culturally responsive relationships with families of children who are chronically absent. Home visitors, either by phone or in-person, learn about families’ needs and challenges and their aspirations for their children. With repeated visits and/or conversations, liaisons work to build trust, provide needed resources, and create a family/student support plan;
visitors do not enforce school attendance policies. 

 CSDE 2019-2020 attendance data show that absenteeism was more prevalent statewide among students in the early grades and again in early high school. 

Windham is among 15 Connecticut districts identified by the CSDE as having high rates of student absenteeism. In response, Windham High School, in Willimantic, is implementing a LEAP initiative to bring back its reluctant 9th- and 10th-graders, Dugas said. EASTCONN has helped Windham design its LEAP plan and train its home visitors, all of whom are certified teachers. Dugas said that the 15 districts participating in the state’s LEAP program meet regularly to share working strategies that can support improved attendance outcomes for all students. 

  In its own magnet high schools, EASTCONN is implementing an attendance initiative that mirrors the LEAP program.
EASTCONN’s Ninoshka Alba is the liaison for EASTCONN’s Arts at the Capitol Theater (ACT) magnet high school in Willimantic, and Quinebaug Middle College (QMC) in Danielson. 

“Out of the 100 families whose children were chronically absent last year, about 30 returned my calls this fall,” Alba said. “And eight out of 10 said their child would be fine this year because of in-person classes. As a result, we’ve transitioned to attendance this year, with a focus on early intervention.”

Alba said parents cited many different reasons for their child’s absences last year, including critical basics like housing, utilities, food stamps and clothing. “I tell them that the school can help with all of that,” she said. “I let parents know, ‘I’m here to support you. I’m here to help. You can talk to me.’” 

 “As a result of what we’re learning from families, we’re building a town-by-town list of family resources that address
issues like mental health, fuel, housing and more,” said Dugas. “Our ultimate goal is to create a regional attendance review board in eastern Connecticut that links all families in our region’s schools to the resources they need, so they can focus on their child’s learning.

“The results of our attendance efforts remain to be seen, since we’re in the early stages,” she said. “But we’re confident that through personalized family outreach and support we’ll begin to break down barriers that keep many students home from school.” 

Reach out to Diane Dugas at .