By April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide
Truancy is a multilayered problem that is rarely as simple as a child not wanting to attend school. While each case has to be examined individually for any truancy prevention to be completely successful, you can ask some basic questions to see if you are on the right track to increasing attendance.
Is our school a place where kids want to be? Does our school look and feel friendly and comforting?
If your school is a place that feels cold or unwelcoming to students or parents, then neither will want to have the child there every day. Think about the way your school looks, how inviting it is, or how easy it is to navigate. Is it hard for someone to find the main office, where to register their student, or where to sign in to volunteer? Are there signs that point people in the right direction, or better yet, is someone there to greet them when they come in the door? What procedures do you have in place to help new students at the beginning of the year or any time they may move to your school? A fresh coat of paint and a packet of information for parents can go a long way toward making people feel welcome.
Are our lessons engaging? Are there activities for students to take part in?
Are your classrooms places where students feel safe to make mistakes and grow? Is there active, engaging learning taking place? At all grades, are there ways for parents and students to feel connected to the school? At the upper grades, are there activities, clubs, sports, music, etc. that kids can be involved in? Are there supports to help all students take part in these activities? This question takes us to our next important question . . .
Are we supporting the whole child?
A child who does not have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep, a place to bathe, or transportation to get to and from school is more likely to be truant. Most schools provide breakfast and lunch for students in need, but your school may want to look at partnering with organizations that provide food for nights and weekends, or you may want to create your own program. Consider having more of your clubs and activities built into the regular school day so even students who do not have transportation will be able to attend. Set up free transportation options for events that occur outside of school hours like athletic events or performances.
Are we supporting the whole family?
Truancy is rarely a child-only issue. Instability in a family often affects truancy rates, as does a family’s status. Parents who do not have their own transportation cannot bring a child to school if they happen to miss the bus. Parents who speak little or no English often need their English-speaking children to be translators and will keep them out of school for this purpose.
Instead of punishing students and parents for these needs, partner with community organizations to help provide translation and interpretation services, transportation, and supports to keep housing stable. If you have older students, see if they or recently graduated students could translate at school events or programs on a volunteer basis. This is a great service to your community and looks excellent on their college and job applications.
Do students see school as their way to a better future? Do they even see that a future is possible?
As students age, they tend to lose their belief that they can do or be anything. Self-doubt, which is often reinforced by the outside world, can make their futures look dark, or worse yet, blank. What does your school have in place to provide mentorship and support to students and to give them opportunities to see real possibilities for their future? Partner with local community organizations and businesses to have college- and career-learning opportunities for all grade levels. For older students who have fallen behind in credits, create and clearly communicate with parents and students a plan for getting the student back on the right track.
Solving the problem of truancy is not easy, and it is not something that schools can do alone. Schools must partner with students, parents/guardians, and the community to tackle this daunting problem.
April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., is currently an assistant principal and has been a teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal in both urban and suburban schools. She holds a master’s degree in supervision and administration from Middle Tennessee State University. She has been a speaker at a variety of conferences including ASCD and has also been published in Educational Leadership. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
April M. Snodgrass, M.Ed., is the coauthor of The Principal’s Survival Guide.
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.