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After-School Programs Work to Improve School Day Attendance

A new project that tries to find strategies on how after-school programs can improve student attendance during the regular school day was outlined in a webinar,"Leveraging the Power of Afterschool to Reduce Chronic Absence," I listened in on last week.

The project is supported by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and is a combined effort of the Maryland, Utah, and Pennsylvania after-school networks and Attendance Works, a national initiative that seeks to lower student-truancy rates in all 50 states, particularly through improving the attendance of those who are chronically absent or miss more than 10 percent of the school year.

Webinar speakers included Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works; Ellie Mitchell, director of the Maryland Out of School Time Network; and other leaders in the out-of-school time field.

"We're working on how we can make the connection [between school day and after-school attendance] more intentional and have strategies that OST programs can implement to strengthen their own practice around attendance, as well as serve as a partner with schools around reducing chronic absence and moving more students into the high-attenders category," Mitchell said.

Studies by organizations like Citizen Schools and the Boys and Girls Club have shown that children who participate in after-school programs often have higher attendance during the school day, even though most after-school programs do not actively encourage that attendance. (It's been suggested that the supportive environment fostered by good quality after-school programs stimulates more interest in school.) Research has also shown that kids who have poor school day attendance as early as kindergarten are much more likely to drop out of school and remain behind grade level year to year, according to Attendance Works.

Currently, the after-school networks involved in the project are gathering data from after-school programs and schools in their states and facilitating professional-development training and information sessions on how programs and schools can work together to better track and link attendance data between the two.

Project participants hope their efforts will identify some trends in after-school programs that seem to have the greatest impact on children's attendance in the school day, in addition to some specific best-practice strategies for how OST programs can directly encourage kids to attend school. The results, they believe, will help catch kids early on who start to miss school before it becomes a pattern and get them "back on track," as well as make parents and educators more accountable and aware of kids' attendance.

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