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EDUCATION

Genesee Elementary School seeing improvements during attendance initiative

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aub school board 11-15-22

Genesee Elementary School Principal Sarah Passarello speaks during an Auburn school board meeting Tuesday.

AUBURN — After Genesee Elementary School saw an attendance drop due to COVID-19, the school is seeing some improvements so far — and hopes to keep them going. 

Genesee principal Sarah Passarello spoke about the school's attendance initiative during an Auburn Enlarged City School District Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. Passarello said the undertaking first began for the 2021-22 school year.

She showed a presentation listing attendance rates in recent years, including an average attendance of 92.6% for the 2019-20 school year, 78.9% for 2020-21 due to the pandemic, 89.4% for 2021-22 and 93.3%, as of Oct. 31, for the 2022-23. Genesee's average daily attendance rate was at about 92.5% prior to the outbreak, Passarello said.

"When COVID hit, just like with all other schools, it really tanked our attendance. Last year, we really struggled getting it back up to where it should be, so that's kind of the background on why we chose this as one of our initiatives," she said. "Because if our students aren't at school, they aren't learning and will continue to struggle across all areas."

While the school's average attendance rate as of the end of last month is better than the rate of the previous year, Passorello noted "but now we have to maintain that, and that's not going to be an easy thing now that we're coming into winter months."

The school's goal is to bump that student daily attendance rate from that approximate 89% rate in 2021-22 to 92% overall for 2022-23. That percentage would be about where Genesee's rate was before COVID-19.

"That's still not fantastic, but it's a place to start," Passarello said.

Weekly student attendance tracking has been a part of the initiative, tracking every student "who starts to get close to that chronic absenteeism rate," she said. She also noted that Genesee's students who were chronically absent were "really, really chronically absent." The graph for that tracking info shown in the presentation included different services the school tried to put into place, Passorello said, including parent contact and principal hearings "where we bring the families in and just have conversations and figure out what the barriers are and different ways that we can help broke those down."

One intervention for attendance is Awesome Attendance Nights. Passarello said that any student who missed two or less days of school in March last school year were invited to an event, where Grace Chapel of Skaneateles donated $500 worth of gifts such as scooters. The school is holding another event on Nov. 17. Other interventions are being implemented as well.

After the meeting, she praised the efforts of the school's attendance committee.

Around the country, some school districts will begin the school year wondering, "where is everybody?"Daniel Anello is the CEO of Kids For Chicago. "At least in Illinois, I know many other states, less kids means less resources coming to your district," said Anello.  Enrollment is down for public elementary schools. An analysis of last year's enrollment by AP and Chalkbeat found one in three Chicago schools now have fewer than 300 students. LA, New York and Boston are seeing similar trends in empty desks. Shrinking enrollment may force some districts in places like Denver, Indianapolis, and Kansas City, Missouri to close schools entirely. The Dickinson family in Wheaton, Illinois says they were hesitant to pull their daughter out of school. "The idea of taking Caroline out of school was frightening, but the idea of keeping her in the school, the way it was going with the just lack of, what's the wording the lack of communication, consistency, the way it was run, it was just like months wasted," said Sarah Dickinson.  They started home schooling when the pandemic hit; now they want to stick with it.    "It's been consistent, it's been rigorous, she's excelled and we couldn't be happier," said Dorian Dickinson. While the pandemic may have contributed to the decline in traditional public school enrollment, there's more to this story.   "COVID has had an impact in some places, but those are those are micro impacts compared to the fact that we just as a country have a lot less babies that are growing up to be students," said Anello.  Kids First Chicago has studied the schools' slowdown. They say particularly in Chicago, enrollment declines are driven by the slowing growth of Latino families and a steady exodus of Black families out of the city. Another contributing factor is that kids just aren't showing up, because of quarantines or other causes. 50% of students in LA were considered chronically absent. Hedy Chang is the executive director of Attendance Works."Chronic absenteeism has at least doubled nationwide. In some places, it's increased even higher because there's a lot of local variation," said Chang.  Chang says they define chronic absenteeism as missing 10% of school. Now they're seeing students miss as much as 50% or more of school.  "If you're looking at signs, you start to see it happening. And chronic absence is an early warning sign that kids might not re-enroll the following year," said Chang.   Like so many, Chang is looking for a solution. "To keep kids in school, to keep kids staying connected, you really need to take what we call a tiered support that invests in prevention," she said. Experts say growth is possible when families see schools as a place of community beyond the school day: A resource not just for education, but also for food and healthcare.   

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education and City Reporter

Hello, my name is Kelly Rocheleau, and I cover the education and city beats for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I've been writing for the paper since December 2016.

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