Too many absences from school compounds the challenges of keeping pace. According to the White House, more than 7 million students fall behind academically and risk not graduating from high school because of chronic absenteeism.

To fix the problem, the Obama administration plans to deploy mentors as the core of a two-pronged plan to curb absenteeism, which has the greatest impact on children in low-income communities.

A partnership between the president’s My Brother’s Keeper program and Johns Hopkins University, called the MBK Success Mentors Initiative, will pair mentors with 1 million students when fully implemented.

“It is the nation’s first-ever effort to scale an evidence-based, data-driven mentor model to reach and support the highest risk students – using existing resources already linked to schools, and the metric of chronic absenteeism to drive school and life success,” the White House said in a statement.

In the initial phase, mentors will work with students in the sixth and ninth grades—recognized as vulnerable transition stages—in school districts located in high-need communities. The goal is to connect with at least 250,000 students over a two-year period.

Once fully implemented, the mentorship program will reach more than 1 million at-risk students in grades K-12 within the next three to five years.

College students will join the mentorship corps in the final phase. The administration would “leverage federal work-study allocations,” and identified Miami-Dade College as the first to join the effort.

Initially, the plan would focus on 10 cities: Austin, Boston, Columbus, Denver, Miami-Dade, New York City, Philadelphia, Providence, San Antonio and Seattle, which are part of the My Brother’s Keeper network. It will expand later into other communities.

The White House describes the mentors as “motivators, problem solvers, connectors, and advocates.” Their job is to build supportive relationships with at-risk students, promote attendance, and direct their mentees to supportive services to keep them on track.

Each mentor will oversee the progress of three to five students. They’ll meet with the students three times each week in school and also connect with their parents.

Mentorship is only one part of the solution. The second prong of the plan seeks to educate parents about the consequences of chronic absenteeism, defined as missing at least 10 percent, or about 18 days, of the school year.

A partnership between the Department of Education, Mott Foundation, and Ad Council will launch an advertising campaign targeting parents of K-8 students. In addition to an assortment of ads on billboards and bus shelters, the plan will feature a website with downloadable tools for parents, educators, and community leaders.

Five Facts About Absenteeism

Attendance Works, a national and state initiative that promotes attendance awareness, offers these facts about absenteeism:

  1. Low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others, often for reasons beyond their control, such as unstable housing, unreliable transportation, and a lack of access to health care.
  1. Absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance throughout the year. Half the students who miss 2-4 days in September go on to miss nearly a month of school.
  1. By sixth grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
  1. Research shows that missing 10 percent of the school, or about 18 days in most school districts, negatively affects a student’s academic performance. That’s just two days a month and that’s known as chronic absence.
  1. When students improve their attendance rates, they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Attendance Works | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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