Are Community Schools Part of the Answer to Chronic Absenteeism?
A new report finds that students attending longstanding community schools tend to have better attendance than students attending non-community schools at least at the elementary and middle school levels.
The report, called "Baltimore Community Schools: Promise and Progress," looked at data from 42 of Baltimore's community schools during the 2014-15 academic year and compared the information to data from students attending traditional schools in the city after adjusting for demographics, including race, English-languag-learner status and participation in free and reduced lunch programs.
It found that elementary students attending schools which had been using the community school model for five years or more were 41 percent less likely to be chronically absent than their peers in non-community schools, while middle school students were 48 percent less likely.
The story was markedly different for high school students. The study found that high school students attending mature community schools were 40 percent more likely than their counterparts in other city schools to be chronically absent.
While this is a jarring figure, the study calls for a cautious approach to interpreting all of the report's findings noting that the information should be "used as a guide to think further about implementation needs, rather than an assessment of the success of [Community Schools] as the outcomes featured here are interim precursors to long-term success."
Still, Julia Baez, the chief strategy officer for Family League of Baltimore, says the organization will be working this summer to develop strategies on how to best meet the needs of older adolescents.
"We have more work to do to figure out how to capture young people in high school," said Baez. The report itself doesn't speculate on the reasons for the diverging high school results.
In schools where the community model had been in place for less than three years, elementary and high school students had chronic absence rates similar to their peers who attended non-community schools, while middle school students were about two times more likely to be chronically absent.
"The reasons a kid comes or doesn't is really the story that community schools are working on," said Baez. "To get a parent to tell you that they're homeless, there's a relationship and a trust factor that has to be built over time. That first year is really around how do you build the trust in the relationship between the parent, the teachers, the coordinator and that broader community, so that you can have those real conversations around what the needs are for the population that's being served."
The report also found a connection between participation in programs outside of school that are associated with community based schools and attendance.
Elementary students who participated in such programs were 32 percent less likely to be chronically absent, while middle school students were 77 percent less likely.
"After-school is sort of the anchor for our community school model in Baltimore," said Baez. "At all of our community schools, we're also funding high-quality, after-school programs. Because after-school is linked to the community school model, we're able to work during the school day to target those students that are most in need of those additional learning hours."
The study used attendance data from Baltimore City Public Schools and information regarding out-of-school-time programs from the Family League of Baltimore.
Photo: Students participate in an out-of-school-time academic enrichment activity at Franklin Square Elementary-Middle School in Baltimore. (Courtesy Family League of Baltimore)
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