Hartford School Leaders Canvass Neighborhoods with Chronic Absenteeism

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Chronic school absenteeism in Connecticut is defined by missing 10-percent of the school year.

That’s 18 days out of a 180-school day calendar.

For the 2020-2021 school year, 44% of Hartford Public School students were chronically absent, according to data the district sent to NBC Connecticut.

That’s double the district’s more recent rates because of the pandemic, according to Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez.

"I reflect back to last year, the beginning of the year, and we had over 2,000 students where we didn’t even know their whereabouts despite attempts in the summer," Torres-Rodriguez said.

With COVID-19 restrictions lessening, school leaders in Hartford are doubling down on efforts to keep kids in the classroom.

They say they're on a mission to reduce chronic absenteeism by talking to community members face to face.

Friday, some school leaders, including Torres-Rodriguez, spoke with residents and passed out flyers, both in English and in Spanish, reminding families that the first day of school is Monday and incentivizing attendance with prizes.

This canvassing effort is one of many we’re told that have been happening around Hartford and the superintendent says this initiative has been paired with specific home visits to families with high levels of absenteeism too.

“The research shows that a kindergartener or a first grader if they’re chronically absent, then by third grade they’re likely not going to be able to read on grade level,” said Torres-Rodriguez.

What causes chronic absenteeism is complex and wide-ranging --ou from housing insecurity to school avoidance issues, according to the head of Hartford schools.

But the district believes this can all be addressed if the community works together. Leaders say there is help out there.

“We want them to open that communication and make sure that they understand that we’re here for them. And you know what? 'If you need a uniform, I have some, let’s go in the back office and I’ll get that for you. You need transportation?' Let’s call them. Let’s set that up. There’s always a solution,” said Viviana Alvarado, Family Engagement & School Governance Council manager for the district.

While 13-year-old Raymond Gonzalez says he didn’t know it was the superintendent who approached him in Hartford Friday, the seventh-grader does know he’s looking forward to going back to school.

He says showing up won’t be a problem. He’s been rewarded for his attendance.

“I’m happy for myself that I’m going into seventh grade too and I’m really happy to go back to school,” said Gonzalez.

He tells us he’s looking forward to learning more and he knows the impact showing up has on his future, something this cohort hopes more community members recognize this school year.

“The only time I miss school is if I have an appointment, that’s it and if I’m sick that’s it, but overall, I still go to school every day,” he said.

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