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Spotlight: Educators Committed to Attendance “Every Day”

Betsy Bruneau (right) is a special education teacher serving on the attendance committee at West Haven High School. She and her colleagues regularly meet one-on-one with their students to help them identify and address the root causes of their absenteeism. After six years of service in this role, Bruneau firmly believes that good attendance is essential to ensuring positive learning outcomes.
“Class discussion is vital to the overall experience in class,” said Bruneau, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated West Haven Federation of Teachers. “When a student is out, they do not get to be a part of that, and the dynamics change,” she added.
Bruneau’s district this school year launched a new effort aimed at reducing chronic absenteeism the superintendent has dubbed the “Here!” campaign for attendance. The goal is to promote more awareness of the impact of West Haven Public Schools’ absence, tardy and early dismissal policies. The campaign also includes a district-wide competition, social media outreach, support from community partners and various in-school activities.
On the importance of engaging parents and the wider community to reduce absenteeism, Bruneau said “as educators, so much is expected of us for our students to be successful.” She added that becomes easier when teachers and school support staff can demonstrate to families the importance of “being a part of their child’s experience at school.”
Click here for recent press coverage of West Haven’s “Here!” campaign.
IB ImageAmy Waterman (left) is a family resource center coordinator at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown. She also serves on her district’s attendance committee, which has just received a grant to expand their efforts to reducing absenteeism among Kindergarten students. Waterman sees her role as promoting a culture where attendance is a priority not just in the classroom, but at home and the wider community, too.
“It comes down to education and informing the community,” said Waterman, a member of our Middletown Federation of Teachers. “We have a simple slogan that we put out there in our conversations with parents — ‘on time, all day, every day’ — and to develop a relationship with them so that they understand,” added Waterman, who also serves as a building rep for our local union.
Attendance outreach efforts in Middletown are boosted by community partners that provide wrap-around services for families. One example is Opportunity Knocks, a Middlesex Hospital-based collaborative that addresses dental care, nutrition, behavioral and emotional health for infants and children under five.
“Approaching and educating families who are already stretched thin is a big job,” added Waterman, referring to the ongoing economic challenges facing many Middletown residents. She added that their strategy is to work as a team; school nurses, truancy officers, principals, secretaries, teachers and the superintendent, along with community allies, education stakeholders and youth advocates.
Click here for recent press coverage highlighting Middletown’s attendance improvement efforts among several districts in Connecticut. 
IB ImageColleen May (right) works as a teacher development specialist at John Barry School in Meriden. Her efforts are specifically focused on helping new educators with less than two years experience develop their capacity for new strategies in classroom management. Last year, May and her colleagues reduced chronic absenteeism at the school from 21 to 9.2 percent; a dramatic improvement.
“Here at Barry, it’s our mission to have every child here at school, every single day,” said May, a vice president of our Meriden Federation of Teachers. “All the teachers are part of the chronic absenteeism plan, so we are all invested,” she added.
Meriden Public Schools two years ago received resources from the state’s education department that were directed toward Barry, which in 2014 implemented an extended day schedule. An innovation grant from our national union helped enable students at the school to attend an extra 100 minutes per day and receive vital support, intervention and enrichment services.
According to May, directing resources at improving attendance has been a priority not just for the school’s team at Barry, but for the entire district.
“We have family-school liaisons doing home visits to meet with parents of children who are chronically absent,” May added. “It shows parents that we are serious about their child being here, and how important it is.” 
Click here for recent press coverage on the success of initiatives in Meriden, including attendance improvement efforts.
The 2016 theme for national Attendance Awareness Month, “Don’t Let Absences Add Up,” speaks to the importance of breaking down the barriers that keep children out of school. The effort is coordinated each year by Attendance Works, a national organization dedicated to improving the policy, practice and research around student absenteeism.
Click here to learn more about the 2016 campaign.
Attendance Works earlier this month teamed up with the Everyone Graduates Center to release “Preventing Missed Opportunity: Taking Collective Action to Confront Chronic Absence.” Their brief presents analysis of federal student attendance data and offers solutions for reducing absenteeism through the kind of collective action our union members already employ to improve student achievement.
Click here for the full brief.

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