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According to a report released last year by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey, nearly half of Newark’s high school students were chronically absent during the 2015-16 school year. Officials addressed the issue this week at a day-long symposium.
Mayor Ras J. Baraka and Newark Public Schools Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory were joined by the Newark Youth Policy Board, students and community leaders for the symposium entitled Showing Up Matters: Shifting the Culture of Chronic Absenteeism, Tuesday at Rutgers University-Newark.
The symposium was based on the ACNJ report, “Showing Up Matters: A Look at Absenteeism Inside Newark’s High Schools,” which found that 48 percent of Newark public schools’ high schoolers were chronically absent that year, compared with 23 percent of the district’s K-8th graders.
Baraka and Gregory discussed strategies to address the issue and collaborated with others to support all students attending school. Students from the Opportunity Youth Network shared their experiences through poetry and moderated a discussion between youth and conference attendees.
The program also included a presentation from Newark public schools about current efforts to address the issue and a panel discussion with school leaders and community organizations currently implementing strategies to engage our children more regularly in school.
Students who miss 18 days or more of excused or unexcused days per year are considered “chronically absent.” Experts said missing even two days per month can have a negative impact on academic achievement and increase dropout rates.
“The data tells us that students will never achieve their full potential if they are not in school,” ACNJ President and CEO Cecilia Zalkind said. “Once a Newark ninth-grader misses 10 percent or more of school days, that child has more than a 40 percent chance of failing to graduate on time. On the other hand, students with good attendance have a graduation rate of 86 percent, close to the state average of 90 percent.”
Several issues are contributing to chronic absences, including disengagement from school, lack of help with social-emotional issues, concerns about safety and long distances from home to school.