The outline for recommendations is below, but brief explanations will need to be written that explain what is meant by them, and how the recommendations are rooted in the findings and/or literature (it’s always good to cite literature that supports your recommendations, even if they are based on the interviews).
Recommendations based on Parent Interviews:
- Do an extensive audit of the language used in school-to-parent communications, continuing to infuse asset-based terminology, as well as simplifying and clarifying policies related to attendance and school resources
- Clarify attendance policies and avenues for parents to work with teachers/administrators on this issue
- Streamline communication beyond the school-based portal, such as implementing a weekly newsletter highlighting important items; utilize multiple forms of communication when reaching out to parents, such as texts, phone calls, and emails
- Foster better relationships with parents by offering monthly in-person meetings or “open house” opportunities
- Identify and clearly publicize school transportation options for parents, because there is a lot of confusion in this area. Work to connect parents with each other and address this at the community level.
- Many parents, especially those with immigrant backgrounds, wanted more ways to volunteer and be involved with the school, but weren’t sure how to pursue it, and felt unsure how to be involved if their English skills were limited. Make more opportunities available (such as through extra-curriculars, classroom assistance, and committees) and publicize existing opportunities better.
- Implement a parent task force dedicated to attendance issues, and pay them for their time (many parents are paid hourly, and can’t afford to miss work for school-based activities, so offering a stipend would increase participation and commitment levels). These parents can bring forward issues to administrators, follow up on families, and work collectively on community solutions.
- Similarly, form a parent group for immigrant families, where they can come together for support and answers to unique questions of culture and language adjustment in the school context.
- Utilize these resources for enhancing FSC (family school community) partnerships.
Recommendations based on Student Interview:
- Form peer-based affinity groups to form connections for those at higher risk of absenteeism (SMY, students from immigrant families, etc)
- Implement a more robust 9th grade orientation that continues throughout the year with buddy systems, extracurriculars, teacher and community mentorships
- Address issues of bullying, cyber bullying, and dating violence in small groups/electives
- Through parent and community partnerships, expand extra-curricular opportunities for students, and clearly publicize them. Both parents and students we interviewed were looking for ways to connect to the school community, particularly through sports and other activities.
- Work with community organizations and businesses to provide mentors for students
- One recommendation for Hartford Public Schools would be to implement restorative practices to improve the school climate amongst the students. According to the IIRP, restorative practices refer to the study of strengthening relationships between students as well as social connections within the whole school (Weber, 2020). Weber explores how implementing restorative practices can improve the school climate and increase absenteeism. This is a crucial part of improving the school climate because restorative practices are more effective than normal conflict resolution. Restorative practices include checking-in and checking-out with students to see how they are feeling, proactive circles run by teachers, peer mediation and affective statements to express feelings. This also includes restorative questions, chats, meetings, and conferences. It’s important to note that restorative practices are most efficient when implemented schoolwide and district-wide, but it’s shown to decrease suspension rates and decrease physical and cyberbullying (Weber, 2020). Restorative practices can increase school engagement and the feeling of belonging at school.
- Partner with community organizations to train administrators and staff on asset-based language; utilize flyers with helpful techniques (I.e., efficient phrasing, positive quotes, visuals of societal rewards when used, etc.) that can promote inclusive school culture. By having these visuals posted around school, sent in the mail to the families, this could engage all participating parties to more inclusive based language to decrease absenteeism.
- Another recommendation would be to update grading policies to the standards-based grading system to ensure teachers and students are on the same page when it comes to grading. A student reported not receiving feedback or grades within an adequate amount of time and wants teachers to improve in that area. By implementing standards-based grading, it ensures students know what they need to improve to succeed and gives them multiple chances to practice and show mastery (Awesome, 2022). Standards-based grading also has benefits for teachers, such as less grading time and allowing teachers to provide more consistent feedback (Awesome, 2022).
- Work with teachers to ensure a curriculum that is inclusive and relevant to students – culturally and vocationally. Offer an avenue for job-related elective courses (or occasional classes), as well as internships, apprenticeships, and job shadows
- Pursue grants for external curriculum (I.e., field trips) to engage the students more. This can be done on a bi-monthly basis to have something for the kids to look forward to, especially with so many community opportunities in Connecticut.
Barriers to Attendance:
- Implement “Breakfast after the Bell” and free coffee as incentives and ways to address issues with food insecurity and morning issues with time. This could be implemented as weekly catered breakfast. An article in our research showed how using food, specifically for breakfast, as an incentive for improving attendance was effective (Kirksey, J. J., & Gottfried, M. A., 2021).
- Another recommendation would be to organize more transportation options for students. One transportation recommendation would be free bus passes. One research article showed that absences were 18% lower when low-income students received free bus passes (Fan & Das, 2016). Another recommendation regarding transportation options would be district-owned and operated van rides to school for students who don’t qualify for the school bus. This option is being explored by other urban districts, such as Detroit, in efforts to try to reduce absenteeism rates (Higgins, 2019). This offers students flexibility, and families some support with accessible and convenient transportation resources. This may increase the Average Daily Attendance and Absenteeism rates.
Additional Recommendations based on the Literature:
In general, the literature pointed to ways in which schools could garner support from parents and communities to address absenteeism on the community level and provide more points of connection and mentorship for students other than their (often over-extended) parents. One example is in New Haven
More suggestions include parent task forces, peer-to-peer mentorships, and enhanced extracurricular opportunities. Additionally, including local businesses – who are often employing Hartford high school students – into the conversation could address the issue beyond the school level.