City Connects helps a community school in the Bronx Shine A Light

Community School 211, a pre-K to eighth grade school in the Bronx run by the Children’s Aid Society, has woven City Connects into a successful strategy for improving students’ attendance — and won an award for its efforts.

The school has seen its chronic absenteeism rate drop by almost 8 percent and its average daily attendance rate go from 92.9 percent last year to 94.1 percent this year. Chronic absenteeism is often defined as missing 10 percent of school days — or more– in a year. Missing this much school puts students at risk of having poor academic outcomes and dropping out.

Last month, C.S. 211 won a Shine a Light award from New York City’s Department of Education for their attendance improvement efforts. This is the result of four years of continuous improvement to ensure that students are in school every day. It’s exciting recognition of the vision, teamwork, and systematic effort it takes to boost attendance and help students fulfill their academic potential.

“We know which students are chronically absent based on last year’s school attendance data,” Sandra Romero explains. “So we’re very proactive at the beginning of the school year. We already know what students we are going to be targeting.”

Romero, who was a City Connects Coordinator, is now the Assistant Community School Director at C.S. 211. As we’ve blogged, Community Schools and City Connects are working together in the South Bronx. The two “are philosophically aligned programs — both help students thrive by meeting their comprehensive needs.” City Connects works inside schools by using an evidence-based practice and data to guide implementation of student support.

“When we do the whole class review,” Romero says, “we bring awareness of attendance to the teacher.” These reviews create a full picture of each student including his or her attendance patterns. If absences are a concern, coordinators work with the school staff and families to identify the root causes of absenteeism. This analysis leads to action and helps coordinators tailor services to address these specific causes.

To help students who are frequently absent at C.S. 211, Romero thinks through City Connects four domains: academics, social-emotional, physical health and well being, and family.

“For us, it’s very important to connect the dots, and be able to provide the proper services for a student,” Romero says. “Everybody comes to the table and we try to make the best decisions we can for the student.”

At C.S. 211, “we share with parents how impactful attendance is,” Romero says, explaining, for example, that missing two days every month, on top of official school holidays, means that valuable instruction time is lost.

The school also assigns Success Mentors — social work interns from Lehman College — to provide individualized support to students. So when Romero was a coordinator and one student kept falling asleep in class and missing school, he was connected to medical services. The social work intern accompanied the family to the medical appointments. And the child’s teacher worked with him to create individual incentives for improving attendance. The outcome: the child then came to school more, saw his reading ability improve, and got excited about his schoolwork. In addition, his mother started coming to school to take GED courses.

C.S. 211 also holds monthly attendance rallies, giving awards to students who have earned perfect attendance for the month. The next month, a new count starts so that every student has an opportunity to start fresh each month and work towards perfect attendance.

This year, the school acknowledged families who have had perfect attendance by having game and movie nights.

“Having a game night,” Romero says. “Having a movie night. Having something that they feel very proud of. Even kids are noticing, ‘If I have good attendance, I’m going to be able to go.’”

Helping schools better respond to student needs is the City Connects’ process in a nutshell: gather data, identify problems, and work with school and community partners to provide customized supports that meet student needs. And it works. Thanks to this practice, we’ve seen chronic absenteeism fall across the schools where we work.

As our website explains, students who attended City Connects schools in elementary school are significantly less likely to be chronically absent than students who never attended City Connects schools. By grade 9, these students are 25 percent less likely to be chronically absent.

“Beyond chronic absenteeism, City Connects students were found to have a significantly lower total number of days absent than students from the comparison group in grades 4 to 12.” We’re glad to see these positive impacts again.

Congratulations to C.S. 211 on its school-wide achievement on attendance!

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