West Haven Launches Program to Combat Chronic Absenteeism

The West Haven Public Schools are launching a new campaign aimed at combatting chronic absenteeism. It’s named after the age-old response from students around the world when their teachers take attendance—Here!

“You’ve got to be there, everyday” Neil Cavallaro said while discussing the new initiative with NBC Connecticut.

The district has planned a series of things to acknowledge students with good and improving attendance, while working with the families of those who continue to struggle.

The youngest students are receiving calendar cards that will be stamped by teachers after every week of attendance. Kids with perfect and improving attendance will receive prizes and notes will also be sent home with children who have good attendance to remind parents that their kids are on the right track.

In 2015, 17 percent of West Haven students were considered chronically absent. That number was reduced to 10 percent in the 2016 school year. Now school leaders want it even lower.

The schools have a social media campaign, robo-calls home and letters to spread the word about Here! to parents.

“We’ve done a number of phone messages to our families to encourage them to get to school, come to school ready to learn day one” Cavallaro said.

Teachers in West Haven said students who miss even a few days of school each year are at a disadvantage and often struggle to keep up with coursework and their classmates.

“When one student or several students are out regularly, it’s tough to keep them on pace with the rest of the class,” said Betsy Bruneau, who teaches special education at West Haven High School and is also a part of the school’s attendance committee.

Educators said when students fall behind, that can lead to a snowball effect because students start to feel badly about themselves and then miss more school because of it.

In West Haven, they’ll also be working with students who continue to be chronically absent.

They said reasons for students missing school can range from oversleeping to a lack of clean clothing and insufficient school supplies as well as personal, financial or childcare responsibilities at home.

“The message that we want to send to them is we have resources and we have people that can help you” the superintendent said.

The Here! attendance program will last the entire 2016-2017 school year.

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