September is a pivotal month for students to get back into a routine. In fact, last year (2021), 49.5 million prekindergarten through grade 12 public school students in the U.S were relearning the habit of waking up and getting ready for a full day of learning. However, the transition from summer to school isn’t always the smoothest, so it’s vital for educators and parents to help ease the adjustment. National Attendance Awareness Month is also celebrated in September to recognize the correlation between academic achievement and regular school attendance. Read through these five tips for educators to help keep kids in the classroom.
- Relationships, Relationships, Relationships! I cannot express enough the impact positive relationships can have on keeping students in the classroom. The power of supportive adult relationships and positive peer relationships draws students into the building and into the classroom. Students feel connected to each other and their school community. Intentionality on the part of the adults to build and cultivate relationships helps students feel seen, valued, and important.
- Family Engagement. Piggybacking off relationships, the connections school buildings and teachers make with families individually can go a long way in keeping students in the classroom. Each family has a unique set of beliefs, values, and potential barriers. As a school and classroom teacher, it is imperative to remain consistent and intentional in order to understand, connect, and value these families to whom your students belong. Family engagement may look different to each family; however, creating opportunities where all families feel comfortable engaging can make a great team approach to addressing potential attendance concerns or barriers.
- Communication. Most schools do an excellent job of sharing information with students and families in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, though, these modes of communication tend to leave at-risk populations out of the loop. When possible, and with intentionality, teachers and other school personnel should work collaboratively to establish direct communication methods with families who noticeably have not or cannot engage in the established school or classroom wide modes of communication. Direct personal communication allows for the individualized connection outlined above and the opportunity to collaborate together to address concerns.
- Safe and Supportive Classrooms. Creating a welcoming and safe space for all learners is critical in building a learning community. When students feel a sense of safety and belonging, they are more apt to come to school daily. Teachers have done an excellent job creating comfortable classroom learning spaces by offering different styles of seating options. While others have different “zones” within the room, allowing students the freedom to access those “zones” as needed to work and feel safe and supported. To create community and belonging, educators can be mindful to include “class meeting” or “check-in time” each morning as part of their class routine. Finally, having classroom jobs or responsibilities makes each student feel they are needed by contributing to their class community, further building a sense of belonging.
- Engage with Community Resources. Acknowledging that each student and family comes with their unique strengths, challenges, and potential barriers to education is essential when addressing attendance concerns. Educators can utilize support staff like school counselors and social workers to understand what community support services are available and how to connect families to them. Families who struggle with meeting some of the most basic needs or are in crisis, understandably, focus on these challenges, and at times, at the expense of prioritizing education. By pulling in community resources, we can support the families' immediate needs, therefore allowing them a better opportunity to engage in learning.
It’s important to remember you’re not alone; there are many external barriers for students that are beyond what an educator can advocate for alone. Here’s a list of community resources local to Central Ohio to help students who may be struggling to stay in school:
Erica James is the Program Manager for EPSEA (Educational Partnership for Social, Emotional, and Academics). EPSEA is a partnership between the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio and Franklin County Children Services. Over the past four years, Erica has participated in the design and growth of the EPSEA program. Other professional experience includes working as a Medical Social Worker for Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, as well as working in child welfare. While working in child welfare for almost eight years, Erica served as an ongoing caseworker and Intake/Investigator, as well as an Alternative Response Worker. She was trained in forensic interviewing, motivational interviewing, and as a Family Team Meeting facilitator. Building resiliency and empowering others is the passion that drives Erica's professional career.
Erica has a Master's Degree in Social Work from The Ohio State University, a Pupil Service License for School Social Work, and is a LSW-Licensed Social Worker.