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Attendance Heat Map used to prevent chronic absenteeism

Photo from Juan Morel Campos website

A school in Brooklyn is using a Google Drive program that is helping track chronic absenteeism. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter tells us the Attendance Heat Map has improved.

As the Buffalo Public School District examines a proposed data system that would provide an early warning indicator in tracking why a student is not in class, the Juan Morel Campos Secondary Schoolin the New York City District, has already implemented a new tracking system.

“The teachers are thrilled because their seeing kids in the classroom in front of them who maybe in the past they hadn't seen with the same frequency," said Eric Fraser, Principal.

This community school in Brooklyn houses 630 students in sixth through 12th grades. The school, at one point, was experiencing 45-percent of students missing up to 20-school days.

Fraser tells WBFO News one of the problem at many schools in tracking attendance is staffers were never trained to use Excel spread sheets. But the Attendance Heat Map product has changed the way they watch school attendance.

“At the same point last year, so this mid-November, 30-percent of our students had already registered as chronically absent and I think that number was down to 15-percent. So we had just through the shifts this year we had cut back that historically pattern across our students in half,” said Fraser.

The school is now able to reach out to students. It can reach out to students and find out what's preventing them from attending earlier in the week.

“Just some circumstantial family issues going on or there might be a social emotional well-being issued that prevented the child from wanting to come to the school in the morning, so we are better equip this year to kind of notice those things early and match the child with the right intervention,” said Fraser. 

Chris Caruso is the Executive Director of Community schools at the New York City Department of Education.  

“One of the struggles that a school has or a district has is with so many different students and so many different reasons, is getting the right services to the right the students at the right time,” stated Caruso.

New community schools in the city starting using the new software tracking tool in September.

“New York City has a data base we use that allows us to look at individual students and we’re able to see which students are both at risk to being chronically absent. That means that they’ve missed ten percent of the school days over the course of the school year and then assign them individual interventions early on in the school year, and that might be a mentor that might be a guidance counselor talking to them, it might be a phone call home, but the important thing here is that students and their families understand that the expectations are that their students are in school and understand why this is so important,” said Caruso.

"Does it appear it is being effective," asked Buckley. "It does. We’ve seen great results in a number of our interventions," replied Caruso. “One of the more successful programs that our community schools are using in a success mentoring program and that’s when students who are at risk of being chronically absent are assigned a peer mentor who checks in on them, helps encourage them to come to school."

Beyond the many home-life barriers that preventing some students from attending school, Principal Fraser also recognizes that students need a fair amount of engagement to keep them interested in coming back to school.

“We just try to make sure we have multiply layers of things that kids can connect to. There is just the human connection of having adults in the building that the kids really believe care about them and know them well and that are trying to understand them just as individuals,” stated Fraser.

With word that 50-percent of students at Buffalo's Math Science and Technology School had already missed 38-days of school this season, both Fraser and Caruso highly recommend the Google-drive program for Buffalo's district in tackling the tremendously high absenteeism rate.

“The districts taking responsibility for aggregating and presenting data to us in a way that is immediately useful has allowed us to do the work we are supposed to do,” said Fraser   

"We are seeing the efforts pay off, so our rates of absenteeism have dropped significantly in the schools where we have invested these resources so when you keep your eye on the ball or when you are looking at this from a compressive point of view, you can really make a difference,” said Caruso.

Chronic absenteeism remains a challenge for many districts across the nation and Caruso noted research around the effects are 'profound'. 

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