It Takes a Village: East Central ISD’s Innovative Approach to Tackling Chronic Absenteeism

This blog is the second article in a three-part series on chronic absenteeism highlighting a new way to address this growing concern in K-12 education.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Mr. John Hernandez at East Central ISD in San Antonio, Texas. He is the Director of Student Services and a former football coach who knows the importance of keeping kids in school to ensure not only college and career readiness, but stability in their lives. He is in charge of attendance for the district and saw every campus struggling with chronic absenteeism. Mr. Hernandez started the EC Cares student initiative to address the social issues that are impacting their students’ education, health and overall wellness. “We are determined to help our students develop the skills needed to deal with adversity,” said Hernandez. “If they are not in attendance, they can’t learn—many times they are absent due to trauma or emotional issues.”

What is chronic absenteeism?

According to Attendance Works, chronic absenteeism is defined as missing ten percent or more of the academic year for any reason, including excused and unexcused absences, suspensions and time missed due to changing schools. In the formative years, high absenteeism can lead to grade-level reading gaps, staying back a grade and even dropping out in later years. Further, measuring absenteeism can be difficult since there are varying methods to track attendance.

East Central shows compassion

Mr. Hernandez and his team developed the EC Cares Program to address the chronic absenteeism trend and create hope in the school community. East Central ISD has a large Latino and migrant population. Many of their students have faced poverty and trauma, resulting in missed school, which has disciplinary and even potential criminal consequences. Some students struggled with the incarceration of a parent, loss of a loved one, a parent in hospice, immigration of family members, bullying, food insecurity, unstable housing arrangements, divorce and unreliable transportation. Many of these issues are devastating if left unaddressed and could be considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE) which was discussed in a recent blog entitled What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Why Do We Need It?.

Data-informed prevention strategies

The EC Cares Program uses comprehensive school data to identify those at risk to offer guidance and counseling before it’s too late. The team implemented a 3-tiered intervention program to offer support at different levels based on the number of absences. With the help of Videri analytics, the EC Cares Team can easily access the data to determine at-risk students based on attendance. In addition, discipline and grades are pulled together for a more complete view of what is going on in a student’s life. The team listens to the traumatic needs of the student and customizes a plan to bring hope, increase attendance and applies interventions to achieve academic excellence. “From the bus drivers to the teachers and even the nutrition staff, we all play a role in identifying students who need our help. It takes a village to get our kids from pre-kindergarten to graduation,” said Hernandez.

To learn more about the EC Cares program, visit their website. If your school district is faced with chronic absenteeism and at-risk students, here are some helpful resources:

Attendance Works
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning
National Center on Safe, Supportive Learning Environments
National Dropout Prevention Center

Additional best practices

Check back for an upcoming article in our chronic absenteeism blog series. In part one, we discussed the increasing absenteeism trend and some initial ideas idea on how to address it—including better usage of analytics and reporting. In part three, we’ll take a closer look at best practices and strategies to identify the issues and get students engaged.