Bright Spots are written and produced by the Campaign to showcase work in Grade-Level Reading communities to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download a PDF version.  Today’s feature is the third in a series of “attendance” Bright Spots, in advance of  Attendance Awareness Month in September. For more information register to join an Attendance Works webinar on Wednesday Aug. 6.

How is chronic absenteeism fought on the ground in an elementary school?

At a struggling urban school on the rise in Rhode Island, it is fought by getting to know the data — how many students miss 10 percent of school days or more for any reason — and the chronically absent students.

“What makes a difference is getting the stories of every single kid who can’t come to school and finding a way to help them get there,” says Gara Field, principal of Pleasant View Elementary in Providence, home to a grade-level reading campaign.

Pleasant View has done this with help from City Year, a program of AmeriCorps, the national service organization. At the start of the school year, six City Year members, each assigned to a classroom, work from a list of students who were chronically absent the previous year.“On day one, the student meets a member who says, ‘We want you here every day this year. What are we going to do? Let’s set goals, make a plan,’” says Field.

Since 2012, City Year has worked in Pleasant View and three Providence middle schools. A second elementary school will be served next year. “At the elementary level, it is about engaging families, helping them understand how much instruction is missed when a student misses school and how important it is to get their child to school every day,” says Nora Crowley of City Year Rhode Island.

City Year’s contribution — along with other efforts — has helped Pleasant View reduce chronic absence from 36 percent in 2010-2011 to 29 percent in 2012-2013. This also is being linked with improved student performance. The school’s third graders are up 6 percentage points in reading over three years and 61 percent are proficient; up 21 percentage points in math.

"Our kids are not going to perform well academically if they’re not in school,” says Field. “So these gains are due, partly to the fact that our kids are coming to school.”

Other major factors include efforts to improve the school’s culture and climate; strong leadership and motivated teachers; individualized instruction; new technology and enrichment activities to engage students; a community school approach providing on-site services; and help from several community partners.

Quick to note that much work remains, Field hopes to expand the one-on-one attendance work that City Year members now do with third through fifth graders to the younger grades, where chronic absence is particularly high, perhaps by using other staff.

Serving 25 communities nationwide, City Year works with older elementary school students in part because they are closest in age to City Year members, who are between age 17 and 24, and therefore are best able to form “near-peer relationships.” City Year also works with students who have a literacy, math or behavior issue.

At Pleasant View, City Year members lead daily activities for all students, designed, in part, to encourage attendance. Their one-on-one attendance work last year involved 33 students and accounted for about 25 percent of their time.

The City Year member works to identify why a student is not attending. With 480 students including prekindergarten, Pleasant View specializes in serving special needs students and draws students from across the city, which may bring added attendance challenges.

Chronic absence can result from a relatively simple issue like transportation or a more complex one like mental health. It can be a quick fix or not. A student’s attendance may improve one year, worsen another. “There’s never a success story you can assume will continue,” says Field. “You have to be vigilant.”

Building relationships, the City Year member calls home whenever a student is absent and rewards the student who attends. “Students need adults in their lives and in school, in particular, who show them personal attention, demonstrate they care about them and help give them a reason to come to school every day,” says Crowley.

For more information, contact Nora Crowley at 401-454-3753 or

Photos: City Year Rhode Island; Publication Date: Summer 2014

For more information and to nominate a community to be featured as a Bright Spot, please contact Betsy Rubiner at


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Betsy Rubiner is a writer and senior consultant with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

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