Chronic Absence: A Hidden National Crisis

With the dog days of summer over, our thoughts turn to school schedules, bedtime routines, backpacks, lunches and school supplies.

What better time to address the beginning of the school year with the promise of a positive future for all students. But lurking in the shadows is the threat of chronic absences that can lead to a future of academic failure and dropping out of school.

Last December, over thirty local agencies from Santa Cruz County participated in a Summit entitled “Keeping Kids in School (KKIS) and Out of Court”. This was a first of its kind Summit and the goal was to inform communities on the link between positive school attendance and academic success. What was unique about this Summit was the breadth of support that was received for this initiative. Participation from Santa Cruz County included such notable agencies as the District Attorney’s office, Probation, Mental Health, Superior Court, local schools, Public Defender’s office, law enforcement and many other community based organizations. Research has shown that students who are truant or chronically absent are more likely to drop out of school, be involved in illegal activities and are less likely to receive a high school diploma.

In Santa Cruz County nearly 1200 kindergarteners through 5th grade students are either moderately or chronically absent from school each year and nationally over 7 million students miss over a month of school—that equates to 135 million days of lost instruction. The impact of this epidemic plays out in many ways—impacting our juvenile courts; local economy; family dynamics; school systems and our community.

The Santa Cruz County KKIS taskforce was created as a result of the December Summit and has taken this challenge head-on. We have been meeting monthly to develop and implement strategies that include addressing the need for accurate and consistent data; identification of best practices; and creating a parent and community engagement campaign to promote positive school attendance.

As part of the KKIS community strategy, we are promoting September as Attendance Awareness Month. The Awareness campaign is part of a nationwide event to promote the connection between school attendance and academic achievement. Our goal is to mobilize the entire community—parents, businesses, agencies, students, and schools to promote the link between school attendance and student success by identifying effective strategies to reduce chronic absenteeism.

In order for our students to meet their highest potential, they must first be in school on time—all day—everyday.

To achieve this goal we challenge the entire community to support Keeping Kids in School. We invite everyone to our Attendance Awareness Campaign event on September 5, 2014 at noon on the County Courthouse steps located at 701 Ocean Street in Santa Cruz.

Help us build a better tomorrow and Keep Kids in School!

By Michael C. Watkins and Heather Morse

Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on September 7, 2014