10 percent of New Jersey students are chronically absent from school

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About 10 percent of the students in kindergarten through 12th grade in New Jersey were considered chronically absent in the last school year.

Advocates say that’s a problem that poses long-term consequences for children, but there are some ways to change it.

Cecilia Zalkind, the executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, says missing 10 percent or more of school days is most prevalent among kids who are economically disadvantaged.

“55 percent of children who miss school live in low income families. This could be due of the stress of their communities or families’ health issues, transportation. There are many factors but these are kids who need to be in school the most,” she said.

Zalkind said missing so much time in school can result in reading problems, lower test scores, and weaker social skills.

Some schools have taken action to reduce chronic absenteeism.

Linda Anderson-Towns is a retired superintendent in Cape May County. She said banners were displayed in schools to highlight the importance of coming to class every day. Calls to parents have also made a difference.

“We share just small bites of information that remind parents and families of the impact of lost time on instructional time especially with the rigor of the common core and higher academic expectations,” Anderson-Towns said.

Sandra Diodonet is a former principal in Paterson. She says holding parents accountable has helped reduce absenteeism.

“Oh you know I noticed that Mohammed hasn’t been in school for three days, what’s up? So that they know that you’re aware even though you have a building that has 800 or 900 students that everybody matters and showing up is important. Parents look at you differently when you know that you’re paying close attention to that,” said Diodonet.

Advocates say positive reinforcements such as small prizes like pizza parties also help to increase attendance.

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