Missing large amounts of school is a problem for students. And being chronically absent – defined as missing 10% or more of instruction in an academic year – can have serious ramifications for students in a variety of ways. 

Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s largest public school district, has a student population in which 40% are categorized as chronically absent. But leadership is working hard to change that.

TPS, the City of Tulsa and ImpactTulsa, a nonprofit dedicated to building equity for children, have partnered together on the Attend to Win program to address the multifaceted problem that is chronic absenteeism, says Stephanie Gregory, TPS Director of Family Attendance Supports. The program itself is also multifaceted.

The first question the team addressed was this: Why are students missing so much school? After research, the district identified what they call ‘The Big Four’ common barriers to getting to school: lack of transportation, poor physical or mental health, safety, and housing insecurity.

One way that the Attend to Win program will fight absenteeism is through an awareness campaign. In many cases, the supports are in place to help families, but they may not know it. The program’s website both raises awareness and serves as a resource for families.

“It’s about leveraging systems for families that need them, and raising awareness about those systems,” says Gregory. For example, the TPS Parent Resource Center is where struggling families can turn for practical things like gas cards.

Tulsa Public Schools is enacting a new program to help combat chronic absenteeism: Attend to Win.
Photos courtesy Tulsa Public Schools

The TPS district is also deploying a team of Attendance Recovery Coordinators, a position that is a re-imagined truancy officer. Gregory defines this team as “the folks who are going out and knocking on doors and supporting schools with a data-driven response to students who are chronically absent.”

Schools within the system are also doing their part by ensuring that faculty and staff who know these students and the challenges they are facing effectively communicate these issues to leadership.

And, finally, since chronic absenteeism is a community-wide issue, everyone has a part they can play. The Attend to Win website (tulsaschools.org/student-and-family-support/bell-times/attend-to-win) offers opportunities for individuals and organizations to help through volunteer opportunities or by donating to the Foundation for Tulsa Schools.

There are multiple reasons that school attendance is important for children. Not only is attendance a leading indicator of student academic outcomes, explains Gregory, but there are social development implications too. They miss out on plugging into friend groups, as well as important school culture activities such as class rewards or important assemblies. This can lead to students feeling “out of the loop” even when they do attend, she says.

“We want school to be a place where your kid wants to be, and if there is something that is making that not the case, then we want to hear from families,” says Gregory. 

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