“Getting students to school can be the hardest part,” Sara Monaco Ed.D. from Warwick Public Schools’ Title One Family Center said.
Monaco made three presentations on student absenteeism for the Parent University Night on March 26 hosted by the Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS) in partnership with the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse.
Various community resources held booths at the Buttonwoods Community Center for the event so parents could access them and ask questions throughout the night. Some of the services included the Rhode Island Family Shelter, Westbay Community Action and Warwick Parents as Teachers, among others.
Claire Flaherty, executive director of VOWS, said events like Parent University are important because parents deserve to know the services that are available to them.
“All the services and information is presented in a non-judgmental way and received in a non-defensive way. No one is singled out; it is just basic information,” Flaherty said.
The same can be said about Monaco’s presentation on absent children. She encouraged parents to reach out to schools when they notice their children having too many absences.
She said, “A lot of times parents are afraid to come in because they think they or their kids will be in trouble. The takeaway here is that we want to help.”
Monaco outlined what the school system does when a student is missing school. Parents are called every time a student is missing. As absences increase, the more initiatives the school system takes. She said any school becomes very involved and concerned when a student is chronically absent.
Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of schools days at any time within the school year.
At this point, schools want to work with parents to find the “root cause” and how it can be addressed so the student is coming into school regularly. They will send a personalized letter home and conduct a functional behavior assessment.
There are many reasons students may not be in school: illness, bullying, behavioral issues, disengagement, academic struggles and anxiety or “school phobia.”
Monaco said that anxiety and “school phobia” are increasing concerns when it comes to student absences and things done “intuitively as parents can feed anxiety or fear.” For example, saying things will be okay or making a “big deal” of the issues can increase anxiety.
“This is not unique to Rhode Island,” Monaco said. “We are finding this is a national concern. The numbers are just skyrocketing. There are plenty of theories all the way down to it being a post-9/11 concern.”
Parents, she said, can do various things for every age level to help students get to school every day.
For younger children, establishing a consistent bed time and morning routine and having a backup plan to how to get to school. Also, avoid appointments and trips during the school day.
As students grow, parents should follow their children’s academic progress and encourage students to join clubs, sports and any extracurricular activity so that they want to be at school.
When all else fails, Monaco said, “Come to us, we would love to partner with you and develop a plan. Really, contact whoever you have the best relationship with first. This is a partnership. Attend today, achieve tomorrow.”
Laurie Collins, a parent of students at Park Elementary School, said she enjoyed the presentation but would have liked to see more on anxiety and how to spot the signs of that and stress because attendance isn’t a problem for her children. She frequents VOWS’s educational nights and says they are always beneficial.
“Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power,” Collins said.
Flaherty said, “When a parent is dealing with a resistant kid it is important to know you can reach out for help. You may not have the skill set to find the reason and may struggle to help your kid back on track.”