Moving forward when last year’s learners are missing

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Student absenteeism is hardly a new problem, but chronic absenteeism among public school students has more than doubled since before the pandemic. Students who are chronically absent, meaning they miss 10 percent of days or more in a school year, are at greater risk of falling behind.

A recent article revealed that an estimated 1.1 million American K–12 students registered for the 2020–21 school year but never showed up for class. That is more people than live in the cities of Miami and Atlanta combined. Sadly, there are a lot of missing students.

Prior to 2020, some of the common causes of chronic absenteeism included bullying, mental or physical illness, or failing grades. Nowadays, on top of that, learners may be missing or absent because families have relocated, lack transportation, or have changed their education platform.

Education and teaching must continue to evolve. The sheer number of students absent from classrooms is jarring and many wonder if schools will ever return to “normal.” Most likely, our definition of what is normal may continue to be stretched even further.

Here are a few suggestions you can try to help move forward when last year’s learners are missing.

Hold a classroom “town hall” or open discussion.
Students know when their classmates are missing. Create a safe space where students are free to share their feelings on missing fellow students. Acknowledge the “loss” and empathize that change can be uncomfortable, but humans will undoubtedly encounter many “pivots” throughout their life.

Don’t let current students fall through the cracks.
In addition to being concerned of the absent student falling behind, be cognizant of the spillover effects of chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism not only has a damaging effect on those individuals missing excessive school days, but also has the potential to reduce outcomes and achievements for others in the same educational setting.

Reach out to families who are absent.
Send an email, or even better, call. Let the student and parent know they have been on your mind, and you just wanted to ask how they are doing. Approach the conversation from the heart and be sincere.

Ask students what they would do if in charge.
Have students brainstorm ideas on what they can do, individually or as a group, when they feel overwhelmed by change. Ask how they would want to be approached if they were no longer in class or at school. Creating an action plan based on their insight is a great social-emotional and problem-solving exercise.

Regardless of the reasons why last year’s learners are missing, educational leaders can help keep their students moving forward.  

Check out this post to explore ways to build community and help keep students and families engaged.