N.J. takes steps to address chronic absenteeism from school

Adrienne Hill

Adrienne Hill

A new study by Advocates for Children of New Jersey has found that more than 10 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are chronically absent from school.

The group’s president, Cecilia Zalkind, said about 136,000 students in the Garden State miss 18 days or more of classroom instruction.

“Families face some enormous barriers. They have no transportation. They don’t have before and after school care. The child has chronic asthma,” she said, listing some of the many reasons for missing school. “They’re faced with this question about should I send them or not.”

State Sen. Diane Allen said legislation she proposed would require all schools to compile data on chronic absenteeism and form a committee to reduce it.

“Chronic absenteeism leads to a high dropout rate and leads to all kinds of social ills,” said Allen, R-Burlington. “Chronic absenteeism is the gateway, ultimately, to incarceration, to joblessness, to drug addiction, and to hopelessness.”

Some schools are already addressing the problem.

Adrienne Hill, principal of Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School of the Arts in Trenton, said getting students involved helped reduce the absentee rate from 22 to 7 percent.

“We listened to the students. We told them they had a voice. We told them we wanted to be the best middle school in Trenton. and that it was going to take everybody all hands on deck to make it happen,” Hill said. “We let them know we love them and made it easy from them to come to school, no matter what was going on.”

Calling parents and sending post cards to students helped let them know their attendance matters, .

“If there’s something that we can do to help you to get here, let us know. We just really open the door back up for communication. We put email addresses and phone numbers, so that they can talk to somebody about whatever it is so that we can help them get here.”

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