With 1 of every 5 high schoolers not attending classes with regularity, Dallas ISD launches reconnection effort

Halfway through the school year, one in five Dallas ISD High School students – about 9,000 of them – regularly stopped taking classes.

The district is stepping up efforts to withdraw these students. But it won’t be easy, and experts say prolonged absenteeism will continue to create hurdles for the state’s second largest school district.

From Saturday and at least in the next month, the employees of the district headquarters will start a door knock campaign aimed at students who have disappeared in DISD classes.

The effort is an extension of the district’s Operation Comeback campaign, which typically starts in September each year. There, educational teams organize school walks in the neighborhood to try to deal with no-show students again in the first few weeks of school.

By this point in the school year, campus administrators and teachers have already spent countless hours in their spare time reaching these students, said Vince Reyes, DISD deputy superintendent for school administration. The renewed push will add more manpower and other strategies, he said.

“Our campuses have tried hard to get our children engaged again,” he said. “This is more than just a support for our schools. It’s a bolt of lightning. “

The focus for the first weekend will be on seniors, Reyes said.

“I want you to know that there is still hope for you to graduate,” he said. “Whether it’s the May / June graduation or the August / summer graduation, the district has many programs to help seniors with loan repayments, regardless of the courses they need to graduate. We have programs available.

“Come back to school, enjoy your friends, and enjoy your senior year.”

Under the tutelage of Todd Rogers, a professor at Harvard University, a behavioral scientist who heads the research and development laboratory for social assistance for students at Harvard’s Kennedy School, the district launched a direct marketing campaign for these high schoolers last week.

Each student received a postcard with contact information on how to return to class. The district also sent targeted text messages to absent students and families.

So far, only a dozen high school students have responded.

“That’s a drop in the bucket for the 9,000, but this one [postcards] I only went out last week so we’re excited about it, ”said Reyes.

In educational circles, the generally agreed rate of absence is 10% of the class days to describe a student as “chronically absent”. For the DISD calendar this would mean 17 or 18 school days for the entire school year. Using school data for 2017-18, Dallas ISD had 13% of its students hit this threshold, slightly higher than the Texas average.

However, this year nearly 12,000 students across the district – most of them in high school, 2,500 of them in middle school and 450 in elementary school – have had 70 days or more since September 8, the start of the district’s first grading period missed Reyes.

These absences will have lasting effects, experts say.

“What we knew before the pandemic is that if kids missed 10% of classes – which is a much lower threshold – there is a plethora of research showing that chronic absences from middle school through to the predicted dropout of high School occur, “said Hedy Chang. the executive director of a national not-for-profit Attendance Works initiative. “It was also predicted that post-secondary education would not continue.”

According to Chang, learning is often “armed” – especially in math and science – which means that missing concepts early in the year can prevent students from understanding other concepts later. If students miss class, they are more likely to have difficulty passing a course. And when they fail a course, especially in a core subject, students are less likely to graduate, she said.

The district hoped to resolve some of its participation issues early this fall by taking concerted steps to fill its internet connection gap. The district distributed tens of thousands of computer devices during the summer and fall and provided mobile hotspots to families who needed stable internet connections.

As the pandemic continues to spread in Dallas County, the hurdles to going to school continue to rise, said Claudia Vega, director of Sunset High School. There are now more students working as main breadwinners for their families and parents are unemployed. Others take care of smaller children, although childcare options are scarce.

Even more students are simply burned out or dealing with the emotional baggage of losing a family member to COVID-19, Vega said.

“Just as it was for adults, this has been a difficult year with new challenges,” said Vega. “And some of our students are lacking motivation and having a hard time seeing the light now.”

Sunset – with approximately 300 no-show students out of 2,000 attendees – hosted a small-group session last week for students who suffered a loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vega said 25 to 30 children showed up, grateful to share their stories and talk about their loss.

“Not a day goes by without a message from a parent or student about a lost family member, positive case or someone in the hospital,” said Vega. “Even if that student is not sick, we know that if someone in the house is sick, it has a lasting effect on that household.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens reporting and discussion on pressing educational issues that are critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative sponsored by the Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, the Community Foundation of Texas, the Dallas Foundation, the Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, the Meadows Foundation, and the Solutions Journalism Network, Southern, supports Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retain full editorial control over the Education Lab’s journalism.

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