Project Introduction


Project overview
Chronic Absenteeism in Connecticut is defined as a student missing a minimum of 18 days per school year. This includes absences that are excused or unexcused, absences due to relocating schools, in-school suspensions that last at least one-half of the school day and absences due to out-of-school suspensions.


Hartford Public Schools have been impacted by high absenteeism rates, especially the three largest comprehensive high schools (Weaver High School, Bulkeley High School and Hartford Public High School). Around 2018, Hartford Public Schools implemented various initiatives to reduce the absenteeism rates. Those initiatives did assist with reducing the absenteeism rates for a while but faced a major setback due to COVID-19.

Hartford Public Schools aims to address the issue of absenteeism in a systemic process. Importantly, Hartford Public Schools desires to keep students and families involved in decision-making and ensure that stakeholder voices and experiences are heard. Our research consists of creating a literature review, conducting focus groups and phone interviews with students and families who have children that are experiencing absenteeism in one of three Hartford Public Schools (Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public High School). 


Research questions

According to students with high absenteeism rates and their parents/caregivers…

  1. What are the root causes of high absenteeism rates for students in the three biggest comprehensive high schools in Hartford (Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public High School)?
  2. What are some possible solutions for high absenteeism rates for students in the three biggest comprehensive high schools in Hartford (Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public High School)?
  3. How effective are home visits and other protocols in place for students with high absenteeism rates?

Our Community Partner

This research project is a collaboration between the Liberal Arts Action Lab and the Hartford Public Schools Executive Director of Leadership, Corrine Bailey, and Assistant Principal for Student Engagement, Irene Rietze.

Corinne Barney has over 20 years of experience within the Hartford public schools, serving as an educator in compensatory education classrooms and formal education classrooms, Principal of Betances Learning Lab and currently as an Executive Director for School Leadership.  As Executive Director Corinne Barney oversees administrators and school-based practices for eleven schools as well as leads the district ACE (attendance, culture and engagement) efforts.  She was also awarded Teacher of The Year of Hartford Public Schools in 2010.  

Irene Rietze has worked with Hartford Public Schools for over 20 years serving as an assistant principal at Naylor School, an assistant principal and instructional coach at Dwight Bellizzi Dual Language Academy, magnet theme coach and elementary teacher at Kinsella Magnet School of the performing arts and an elementary teacher at Kennelly School.  Currently Irene is working as an assistant principal for various schools for student engagement in which she supports the school-based ACE ( Attendance, Climate and Engagement) practices.

While Hartford Public Schools is implementing plans for attendance barriers that require long-term strategies such as health, poor transportation, and unstable housing, they’re dedicated to forming community partnerships to reduce absenteeism. For more information on Hartford Public Schools and how they’re committed to reducing absenteeism, visit here.


Demographic Maps of Hartford 

12-24 Youth Population in Hartford

Source: Social Explorer Map for 12–24-year-old youth (Market Profile Data 2021)

This map shows a demographic overview from Social Explorer of the City of Hartford that highlights youth ages 14-21. This map includes the locations of our 3 schools: Hartford High, Bulkeley, and Weaver. 

High School Absenteeism in CT

Constructing School Systems in Hartford 

Literature Review




Although the public education system in the US equips students to succeed in their lives post-graduation, within each school lies a complex web of overlapping issues that prevents some students from achieving this success. There are also problems residing outside the school’s physical environment, specifically the struggle to bring students with high rates of absenteeism back to the classroom. There is a robust body of literature that exists within the realm of absenteeism which discuss the factors that may be contributing to absenteeism and/or various intervention strategies aimed to combat absenteeism. As absenteeism has many root causes, it therefore cannot be addressed using one approach. Each of the following three areas – school culture, mental health, and solutions – may be placed into one of the five categories of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). Despite the nature of absenteeism being a crisis that extends beyond school grounds into the student’s life outside the classroom, it is a school-related issue, especially in Hartford, Connecticut.  

Situated in the heart of the historical state of Connecticut is the State’s Capital, Hartford, where school absenteeism plagues the city’s public school system; this issue is especially prevalent in the city’s three comprehensive public high schools: Hartford High School, Bulkeley High School, and Weaver High School. According to the Connecticut Department of Education, “chronic absenteeism” is defined as a student missing 10%, or a minimum of 18 days, out of a 180-day academic calendar (CSDE, 2023).

Over the last decade, absenteeism rates in Hartford were on the decline, but this progress was disrupted in early 2020. March 2020 was the infamous month during which all Americans confronted the realities of the COVID pandemic, especially schools, where faculty, students, and their families were forced to transition to online and remote learning. Since then, although all three Hartford high schools have returned to in-person learning, not all students have returned to their classrooms and high school absenteeism in Hartford is on the rise.

In an effort to discover the best possible ways to tackle this pervasive problem, Hartford Public Schools (HPS) seeks the input from those who are directly impacted by absenteeism: the families of students with high rates of absenteeism and the students themselves. In order to gain these crucial perspectives, HPS has reached out the Liberal Arts Action Lab to speak with HPS families and students in order to answer the following research questions: What are the root causes of absenteeism?, What are some possible solutions for absenteeism? and, How effective are the current protocols in bringing students with high absenteeism rates back to the classroom? Seeking answers to these research questions through considering the student as a being that exists within a bioecological system will lead to the development of strategies and resources to best address absenteeism.  


Research is being conducted through focus groups on three specific high schools within the Hartford Public Schools district. Focus groups are defined as a type of group interview consisting of combined local perspectives from people with similar characteristics. This includes Hartford Public High School, Bulkeley High School, and Weaver High School. In terms of data, Hartford Public High School has 789 enrolled students, 317 multilingual learners, 183 students with disabilities, and 633 students that qualify for free and reduced meals. Bulkeley High School has 592 enrolled students, 91% of which are qualified for free and reduced lunch and have a 55-58% graduation rate (“Bulkeley High School (2023 Ranking) – Hartford, CT”). Lastly, Weaver High School has an enrollment of 554 students, is in the bottom 50% for test rankings, and has 89% of the population eligible for free lunch (“Weaver High School (2023 Ranking) – Hartford, CT”). This data is all important when considering the factors that impact high school absenteeism in Hartford Public Schools.

The history of issues revolving around educational issues in HPS is deep and dates back decades. The Sheff v. O’Neill case was sparked in 1989 in order to prove schools in the Hartford region were segregated. The plaintiff Milo Sheff wanted the ability to choose where he and many others could attend schools. The result of the case was a voluntary desegregation plan which brought about the Open Choice program and magnet schools based on a lottery system (Connecticut Public Television, 2023). In order to bring in funding, priority is placed on attracting white students from the suburbs through the rehabilitation of the public schools, as opposed to building new magnet schools (Connecticut Public Television, 2023). Ultimately, the goal is to improve education and implement integration for all students.  

Theoretical Framework 

Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model   

The causes of high absenteeism rates stem from many different areas of a student’s life and environment. We utilized Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1977) as a guide for categorizing factors related to absenteeims. Although the bioecological model is originally about human development, it provides a framework that is helpful in disucssing absenteeism. The model separates student influences beyond the individual into four distinct categories. The microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem(Singer, 2021). Microsystem refers to the closest influences on students such as parents, religion, friends, and school. Mesosystem is defined as the connection between the microsystems. This includes teacher-parent relationships and sibling-parent relationships. Exosystem is defined as environmental situations that students are not directly a part of, but it directly affects them. This includes their parent’s workplace, local policy changes, mass media, school districts and social services. Macrosystems are referred to as the cultural and societal components that impact students’ development and how students are raised. This includes social norms, economic systems, political systems, and nationality. 



We used this model to guide our research because the bioecological model is not solely helpful in determining the causes of absenteeism, but also in finding solutions. The model’s categories help separate big-picture solutions from small-picture solutions. Smaller and typically more immediately impactful solutions address problems in the microsystem and mesosystem. Large policy changes and funding adjustments address problems in the exosystem and macrosystem and are more necessary for long term change. The model provides helpful framing for determining causes and solutions to high school absenteeism.  



For the student practicing habitual absenteeism, schools often fail to provide students with the necessary support and motivation that will encourage them to consistently attend. Therefore, an unwelcoming school culture is a significant reason as to why students do not attend school. School climate is defined as the quality of the school’s social and educational environment. This includes the schools culture regarding academic support programs, mental health support services, school safety and teacher-student relationships. As social creatures, there are many benefits to interacting with other people – especially at a young age. Finding friends, teachers, and classmates for support fulfills a student’s need for belonging, companionship, identity, and comfort (Hartnett, 2007, p.43). As a student develops and spends more time interacting with people outside their immediate family, they generally fall into the influence of their peers, classmates and communities. Studies have asserted that peers have more influence over each other than their parents do (Hartnett, 2007, p.43). However, as students begin to adopt identities and find their belonging in communities, it becomes apparent that school culture is not accepting of all groups. A deep-dive into several high schools across Washington state revealed, for example, that schools endorse certain social groups like “jocks, academics, student leaders, cheerleaders, and band members” while groups like “Geeks, Goths, Tomboys, Stoners, Lesbians, and Gays” are often ostracized and treated unfavorably by the school culture. (Hartnett, 2007, p.37). his study showed the potential for school culture to inadvertently promote some groups and marginalize others; consequently, the social groups that are not promoted, acknowledged, or accepted by their teachers and peers find that not attending school is the best option in order to finding a safe space for themselves.

Specifically, studies have shown that those who identify as a sexual minority youth (SMY) are more prone to absenteeism because they are less likely to have been accepted within mainstream school culture. It has been documented that, “sexual minority students report greater victimization or bullying in school than heterosexual students” (Burton et al. 2013, p. 38). For SMY who do not adhere to the mainstream school culture, they “reported higher rates of being assaulted in school by a peer with a weapon and higher rates of skipping school due to fear” (Burton et al. 2013, p.37). Naturally, being in a school culture that is unwelcoming and abusive towards certain groups leads to absenteeism and lower grades. In a recent article from 2020, it is stated that, “studies show that social identification at school foretells several outcomes, including positive attitudes regarding school, increased determination to learn…and more engagement in academic environments” (Nerveza-Clark, 2020, p.20-21). Thus, the relationship between identity and academic involvement is closely linked. Going forward, it should be acknowledged that all these studies point to the need for change in school culture to increase a sense of belonging among all students”. his can be done through the implementation of “difficult conversations” inside classrooms so that educators and classmates can understand the perspectives of one another with the goal of creating a welcoming classroom climate. This is important because “establishing an environment for self-questioning and self-reflective skills expands students’ conscious understanding of themselves within their social environment and enables them to become powerful change agents in their communities (Werman et al. 2019, p. 252).  

Therefore, it is extremely crucial for a school’s climate and culture to be welcoming, accepting, and tolerant of all different identities and social groups in order for students to attend. Implementing in-class discussions or recognizing organizations that promote student unity, like the Gay-Straight Alliances (Burton et al., 2013, p.45) have been proven to build a stronger school community which will further encourage academic participation.  

Mental Health: Individual Level 

Another area of inquiry that is closely related to absenteeism is mental health. Mental health refers to changes in one’s mental well-being due to biological factors, life experiences or family health history. Adapted from the APA Dictionary of Psychology (2023), mental health is a state of mind characterized by emotional well-being, good behavioral adjustment, relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms, and a capacity to establish constructive relationships and cope with the ordinary demands and stresses of life. According to a longitudinal study of 9 to 16-year-olds, 25% to 90% of those who missed school met the criteria for a diagnosis as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994), whereas less than 7% of those who did not miss school met the criteria for a diagnosis. School refusal due to anxiety, unexcused or unexplained absence, and mixed school refusal behavior were the three types of absence.

The emphasis on maintaining good mental health should therefore be placed on students’ life experiences and how those experiences may have an impact on their behavior and academic performance (Jones et al., 2019). Otherwise, students will experience negative effects like truancy and self-neglect. While there are many environmental influences (school setting, home, etc.), mental health is a big determinant to high school absenteeism. There are studies that showcase how mental health affects more circumstances than others. For instance, Burton et al (2013) provides a study that examines the potential connection between school absenteeism and mental health as well as implications on SMY and heterosexual youth. They conducted a longitudinal study with a sample of 108 adolescents, including 29% males and 71% females and consisting of 26% (n=28) classified as a sexual minority. Concurrent with their predictions, they found correlations between absence variables, depression symptoms, and anxiety symptoms, especially being higher for SMY. This demonstrates how mental health should not be viewed solely through the lens of typical populations (i.e., heterosexual youth), and it inspires us to view mental health through a multidisciplinary lens, such as anxiety and depression.

For students, anxiety is a feeling that extends beyond worry or fear in a school setting. Rather, it is examining how these thoughts and interactions with these thoughts affect the spaces these students enter. For example, Jones et al (2019) reveal how anxiety has effects in a multitude of ways for children at the student, classroom, and district level. They utilized cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) based preventative programs as the main frame of analysis, attempting to prevent or treat anxiety disorders. They identified improvement in social competence, emotion regulation as well as reduction in emotion dysregulation, academics, and attendance. This reveals that mental health could be perceived better for the students if there were more examinations in the individual level (i.e. anxiety) within the macrosystem (i.e., mental health) (Signer, 2021).  

The microsystem level also includes a student’s dating life, which can have a significant impact on the student’s mental health as well as the school’s culture. In this sense, dating violence may have a huge effect on high school students, especially at their age. The relationship between teenage dating violence and high school attendance among American pupils was recently investigated by Cheung et al in 2023. The results of this research show that high school students who had experienced adolescent dating violence (ADV) in the previous year had significantly higher chances of missing class out of fear than those who had not. The study also indicates queer students in non-heteronormative relationships are more likely to miss class. A previous study that compared the educational and psychosocial outcomes for SMY and heterosexual youth in grades 7 to 12 with a large school-based sample found that SMY had greater rates of self-reported truancy than heterosexual youth. (Poteat et al., 2011). In addition, homophobic victimization decreases school belonging and increases truancy in both SMY and heterosexual youth (Poteat et al., 2011), but the research was unable to fully explore the relationship between mental health and absenteeism.  

Therefore, mental health and high school absenteeism should not be treated as mutually exclusive. Rather, critical examination of mental health in tandem with its tenets – such as, anxiety, depression, and dating violence – could offer an encompassing solution for high school absenteeism. 


Countless studies have tested various methods to combat high school absenteeism; whether it be solutions to be enacted by administrators, parents, or students. To start, administrators should begin looking into intervention practices. Intervention programs that involve increasing student and teacher relationships, and can impact other areas that need improvement. These areas would include attendance and parent involvement. The article by Eklund and Burns (2011) emphasizes teacher-student mentoring to help students’ problem-solving and coping skills. This article considers four categories of intervention, including behavioral, academic, family-school partnership and policy-oriented interventions. Across all four categories, the effect was small but positive on attendance intervention (Eklund et al., 2020). The authors argue for the involvement of parents in possible intervention programs. 

Similarly, another program implemented to promote school attendance is called breakfast after-the-bell (BAB). Conducted in Colorado and Nevada, this study found that participation in BAB declined high school absenteeism and also found it beneficial to offer universal free meals (Kirksey et al., 2021). This form of intervention, targets the affect of food insecurity and eliminates the idea that students are not attending school because If students cannot get to school because of transportation and time management, operating as an incentive, free breakfast might motivate students to arrive earlier. It might also be easier for students to have transportation earlier in the morning rather than later.  

Another solution is emphasizing the importance of a positive school climate. If the school does not have a positive school climate or is not a comfortable space, the students do not want to attend school. Werman et al., explain that students report not being able to hold difficult conversations in classrooms. This results in a negative school climate which leads to more absences. A study in 2020 by Nerveza-Clark emphasized how a positive school climate can lead to a more encouraging environment that students feel safe to attend. One way to create a positive school climate is by looking at the lanuage we use when talking about students that are absent. Schhol adminstartors and staff should change from deficit-based to asset-based language. Zinnen (2021) explains that asset-based language focuses emphasizes strengths. The phrase “chronic absenteeism” frames absenteeism as something that can not be fixed because it is persistent. This type of language does not promote positive parent-teacher relationships, which is important when working to increase attendance. 

Analysis of Research Gaps 

Although it is clear that there is an extensive body of literature surrounding high school absenteeism, there are many gaps in the research. For instance, given its recent existence, there is little literature which considers how the impact of the pandemic has affected school attendance. Furthermore, aside from the studies which aim to directly consider the pandemic’s impact, any studies that were performed after the dawn of the pandemic do not consider how its effects may have altered the results of the topic being studied, of which are unrelated to the pandemic (Chang et al., 2021). In other words, the pandemic is not acknowledged as a variable to have had an effect on the results of a study. Furthermore, there is limited literature found that specifically considers the city of Hartford and the factors which have led to this city’s high absenteeism rates. Although it can be speculated the reason for this lack of research around Hartford stems from the city’s small size, other highly credible sources performing research in lesser-known cities in other areas of the United States were found (Simons et al., 2010).

Another area of study to be considered in future research are the perspectives of the families of students with high rates of absenteeism. In current studies, when the role of the homelife is considered, it is only acknowledged as a risk factor affecting the student’s life (Ingul et al., 2013). Perhaps the familial perspective can offer unique insight into what the student’s life looks like outside the classroom and which factors of the student’s homelife may be contributing to their absenteeism. Similarly, there is a large gap in the literature that considers the perspective of the student with high rates of absenteeism. Few studies conduct interviews, focus groups, or other forms of qualitative data with students. Instead, studies acknowledging the student’s insight only do so through surveys (Burton et al., 2013) or examining statistical attendance data over a period of time (Kirksey et al., 2021), both of which are limited because they cannot gain the same comprehensive and robust responses that may be obtained through focus groups and interviews. Future research into these areas are crucial to discover concrete ways to dismantle absenteeism within Hartford and across the United States.  


In conclusion, high school absenteeism is not a monolithic issue and should not be treated as such. Instead, it reveals how the environments of students could affect their emotional, mental, psychological, and social wellbeing, which in turn impacts their attendance rate. With the focus groups, it gives us an opportunity for community members to have a voice in this issue and improve education for the students. Although the literature covers public (i.e., community member participation) and private spheres (i.e., anxiety and depression), there were still gaps like the pandemic and families can be helpful toward building solutions for this issue. The preparation and finalization of this literature review have been a significant and collaborative learning experience. Below the research team has shared their thoughts.


“With the help of the literature review, we were reminded of the value of providing for the needs of the students, especially while keeping a critical eye on outside factors (such as work and family), viewing high school absenteeism from a multidisciplinary framework (such as the bioecological model), seeing this as a national issue, and adhering to readily available academic and mental health resources. In the end, the literature review process emphasizes how crucial it is to approach the issue holistically, taking into account the social, psychological, and environmental elements that influence high school absenteeism.” 


Our Approach

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To gain a holistic understanding of the absenteeism situation in Hartford public schools, we dove into the world of literature surrounding the subject of absenteeism to produce a literature review, conducted both focus groups and personal phone interviews with participants, which were analyzed and interpreted to ultimately produce a series of recommendations aimed at the reduction of high rates of absenteeism.

Our Process

Initial Data Collection and Context

Literature Review

To construct our literature review, we searched through thousands of studies and articles related to absenteeism. While reading the articles, we took notes, which were then incorporated into a spreadsheet highlighting the most important findings of each article. Then, we grouped articles conducting studies of similar concepts (eg. mental health vs. interventional strategies). Finally, we synthesized the articles within the framework of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory in the literature review organized as follows: introduction, background, theoretical framework, findings, analysis of research gaps, and conclusion. Through the literature review, we concluded that because there are a multitude of factors which produce a student’s absenteeism, they should not be confronted through one intervention strategy, but rather a multifaceted approach that aims to address all of the student’s needs separately.

Data Collection Methods

Focus Groups

To collect the data for our research, we conducted a series of focus groups with participants: both the parents of students demonstrating high levels of absenteeism and also some of the students themselves who demonstrate high levels of absenteeism and are at least 18 years old. Our community partner, Hartford Public Schools (HPS), provided us with the contact information of the participants and also of the procedure to reach out to participants, the questions to be asked during focus groups, and the consent forms confirming the participant’s engagement with the study. Alongside the IRB form itself, all these documents were sent to the IRB for approval of the study. After receiving approval, we began conducting focus groups. While some focus groups were conducted in person on Trinity College’s campus and others over zoom, each focus group included several participants who responded to the questions in a discussion format. After receiving  participants’ consent, all focus groups were recorded. Finally, after focus groups were completed, all participants were given a $25 gift card. Focus groups lasted for approximately 30 minutes. All focus groups were conducted in English, except for one, which was held in Spanish.

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Phone Interviews

Since attendance at the focus groups was low and it was difficult to maintain contact with participants, we pivoted to conducting individual phone interviews with participants. These phone interviews followed the same IRB process and utilized the same discussion questions as the focus groups, the only difference being they were conducted on an individual level. Phone interviews lasted for a similar duration to the focus groups, approximately 30 minutes. Phone interview participants were also given a $25 gift card after the completion of their interviews. All phone interviews were conducted in English. Across focus groups and phone interviews, our sample size is six participants (five parents and one student).

The Total Number of Participants

Number of those we reached out to about participating in focus group or phone interview

Number of those who participated in a focus group or phone interview

Students (18+) with high rates of absenteeism



Parents of students with high rates of absenteeism






For all of our participants, HPS initially reached out to potential families and students about participating our study. After gaining verbal confirmation that they would participate, HPS sent the contact information of these individuals to us. Then, our group reached out via phone call, email, and text message to re-confirm their participation in our project and sign the required digital consent form. However, many times, families and students did not respond when we reached out, so we left voicemails and followed up on emails and text messages.

Across students and families, we reached out to a total of 40 individuals, but spoke with 6.

Data Analysis Methods

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1. Transcribed Focus Groups and Interviews

After the completion of each focus group or interview, each recording was uploaded to a transcription software which transcribed the discussions. To ensure accuracy, we read through the transcriptions to confirm that what was said during the focus group or interview aligned with the transcription.

2. Pseudonyms

The confidentiality of the participants is of utmost importance, so in order to protect the identity of each individual, their name was replaced with a randomly generated pseudonym, and so were the names of any individuals they mentioned in their responses.

3. Coding

To interpret the responses of each participant, we critically read through each transcription, searching for common themes, or codes, across interviews as we read. Codes were then given a definition and were utilized to organize the analysis of the findings. More information on our coding can be found on the findings page. 

Why These Methods?

  • We choose to do focus groups and interviews because of their qualitative nature. This method allowed researchers to rephrase questions and cater to the participants. 
  • After the focus groups and interviews were conducted, we transcribed and edited the interviews to remove personalized information to maintain confidentiality. 
  • We used coding to quantify themes within our qualitative data. The more frequent a code, the more influential that theme was on the HPS community. 
  • Overall, focus groups and interviews allowed us to collect qualitative data and our coding process helped us quantify that data and find common themes.  

Roles of Community Partners


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From start to finish, Hartford Public Schools played a significant role in our research process.

They provided context, information and data on:

  1. Prior and current attendance programs and initiatives
  2. Student and family demographics 
  3. The definition of “chronic absenteeism” in Connecticut
  4. Root causes and the most common reasons for absence 

HPS staff also assisted with:

  1. Reaching out to families and students to coordinate focus groups and interviews
  2. Finding accessible spaces to hold in-person focus groups and interviews  
  3. Updating participant contact information

HPS representatives met with us monthly to discuss the direction of our research. During early research stages they provided us with a starting point for our research and their goals for the project. Midway and towards the end of our project, they provided feedback and helped brainstorm the best way to conduct focus groups and interviews. 

Challenges and Limitations

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Limited Time Frame

The Liberal Arts Action Lab is a program that runs over the course of a three-month semester. Therefore, all stages of the research involving the students were limited to this short timeframe. Had the project been able to operate over a longer period, perhaps more focus groups would have been conducted, producing a more comprehensive series of findings and recommendations.

Recruiting Participants

Given their busy schedules, many participants did not confirm their participation in their scheduled focus groups or interviews, participate in focus groups or interviews, nor respond to requests to reschedule. Their absence from the focus groups and interviews represents a loss of possibly crucial data.

Language Barriers

Given the large Spanish speaking population in the HPS district, we had many Spanish speaking participants. In order to accommodate this, we conducted a Spanish speaking only focus group with a native Spanish speaking moderator. However, some participants were not able to attend the Spanish speaking group. 

Furthermore, as mentioned above, all focus groups and phone interviews were held in English, except for one focus group conducted in Spanish. However, when reaching out to some participants in preparation for an English speaking focus group or interview, some individuals responded in Spanish and mentioned that they do not speak English. Since no one on our team spoke fluent Spanish, we were unable to collect data from these potential participants. 

Researcher Positionality

Working with HPS, the students we spoke with may have felt inclined to respond in a certain way. For example, they may have been under the false impression that if they respond about having a positive experience at their school, their grades would improve. Conversely, they may believe that if they offer a negative experience of their school, or provide a harsh critique, that their grades may be negatively impacted by their responses. The way in which they responded may have been affected by these false impressions.

Furthermore, we are a group of students coming from a diverse array of backgrounds. Perhaps respondents were able to recognize a characteristic in one of us which they align with, making them feel more comfortable to speak with us and therefore opening up more about their experiences.

An important part of our identities as researchers is that we are undergraduate students studying at both Trinity College and Capital Community College, which we recognize as institutions with higher degrees of credibility, especially in the Hartford area. The level of prestige of Trinity and Capital may have affected how participants responded during focus groups and interviews.


Hearing Directly From the Participants

In both the focus groups and the interviews, we were able to speak directly with the participants themselves in a space where they were able to elaborate on their answers. This contrasts with surveys in which participants’ responses are limited to filling in bubbles which represent responses that most closely resemble theirs. Furthermore, through focus groups and interviews, participants can offer responses that either contrast any preconceived and expected responses or allow us to consider an aspect of absenteeism in a new way.

Potential to Build Trust

Focus groups and interviews tend to be more personal experiences for both the participant(s) and the researcher. Through building rapport in both qualitative data collection methods, a sense of trust is built, which can be extended to HPS. Before speaking with us, many participants demonstrated being skeptical towards HPS (as many have blocked HPS’s calls), but through focus groups and interviews with our team, perhaps the participants recognize HPS’s efforts to reduce absenteeism, and may begin to develop trust with the district.




We collected data through the method known as focus groups. After conducting focus groups we then moved on to phone call interviews. We collected a wide variety of data with many recurring themes and some surprises.

Findings Table of Contents:

School Interest/Relevance 

  • Student’s lack of motivation for a daily routine has impacted their attendance
  • Students have jobs outside of school that impact their routine

A parent expressed that their student had become” lazy, she didnt need to be there for the first period so she was sleeping in”

A parent explained that “we were trying to figure out what’s wrong with her, so she had to get a sleep study”

Lack of awareness of issues/policies 

  • There were many disconnects in communication between parents and students with the administration
  • Parents and students experienced misunderstandings with the policy expectations
  • Some were unaware that they had attendance issues
  • Hartford Public Schools currently have ways to support their students academically, emotionally, and parentally. However, it has been noted that parents are not fully aware of every resource available to them
  • Academically, it has been noted that teachers do phone calls as an early intervention initiative to inform parents
  • One parent said the school called them after 60 absences.
  • As far as mental health is concerned, one parent revealed that their child sees a psychologist, but others are unaware of school mental health services
  • A parent expressed that there is a lack of communication between the schools and the parents. They said that “I try to do my part, but no one answers the calls or tries, I don’t care if they have to pull her hair to be there or something”

Parent Involvement

  • They want their child to have career opportunities and independence in their future
  • Parents found these goals achievable due to the numerous opportunities in the U.S.

An expectation a parent expressed was, “I just want her to be a strong, independent young lady, like the way that I grew up to be”

  • If there is a lack of trust in the parent and child relationship its impacts parent’s ability to hold their students accountable
  • A lack of communication also creates a disconnect between parents and students when it comes to going to school
  • Many parents of absent students have expressed interest in building a stronger relationship with the school
  • The majority of the parents are dissatisfied with the current way the school has been reaching out to them, which has mostly been through phone calls

The parents agreed that “As well as phone calls and messages from the schools, there should be at least one in-person meeting every several months with the parents…and these meetings should be conducted in “Latin American (Spanish) or Brazilian (Portuguese)- depending on the family”.  

School Climate

  • The parents expressed interest in schools providing more extracurriculars at school. They note that sports and activities allow students to release their energy and make going to school much more enjoyable
  • According to one parent: “Sports are fundamental in combination with school classes because you release all your energy and stress. I think they should have the opportunity to enroll in a dance course which will make students more relaxed”
  • The parents took issue with the lack of discipline at Hartford Public School toward students. According to some parents, they have not enforced their policies and have been too lenient, especially regarding uniforms, cell phone regulations, bathroom usage, and drug use
  • While the parents have not listed their own children among the students who have been known to misbehave, they are aware of these issues due to the information their child tells them

One parent revealed that “They are taking advantage of the bathroom passes to skip class, and then there are students walking through the hallway and they should be in class”

Another parent chimed in saying, “They have to know how to respect the school because you come to school to study not to sleep”

  • The parents suggest that schools need to put effort into finding out what the absent student is doing. Through communication and interactions, they see the importance of finding the reason for their absence and addressing it

“Some students are absent because they need to take care of their brothers, and the schools are not aware of that so they do not help” one parent noted

Barriers to Attendance

  • Student’s inability to get to school impacts their attendance 
  • Student’s sleeping in has impacted parent’s abilities to drive them to school
  • Walking to school poses an issue for students when there is poor weather
  • It is an inconvenience for families that live outside of the school bus zone, especially for parental guardians with other responsibilities
  • Students experience food insecurity; during interviews, students expressed how donuts and iced coffee would motivate them to attend school more.
  • Some students miss school due to having doctors appointments during the school 

A parent expressed that “the doctor is very busy too so I have to take whatever the doctor has and she has to miss the day.”

  • Health issues impact student’s sleep schedules making them unable to attend school

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