Home ♃ Recent Stories ☄ Combating Truancy, Birmingham Offers Incentives For Perfect Attendance in City Schools

Combating Truancy, Birmingham Offers Incentives For Perfect Attendance in City Schools

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HABD President and CEO Dontrelle Young Foster. (Barnett Wright Photo, The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe Jefferson

The Birmingham Times

Juanesa Johnson, mother of two school-age children in Birmingham, knows all about perfect attendance. When she was growing up, she made sure to attend school every day and now does the same for her 8th grade son and 1st grade daughter at Phillips Academy, she said.

On Thursday, Johnson was awarded $445 for helping her children get perfect attendance during the past 30 days as part of a newly launched program called “Every Day Counts”, which city leaders hope will encourage residents of HABD (Housing Authority Birmingham Division) to get their children to school each day.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. (Barnett Wright Photo, The Birmingham Times)

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, School Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D, and HABD President and CEO Dontrelle Young Foster kicked off the initiative at Smithfield Court Community Center with a packed audience of parents, students and administrators, including members of the Birmingham School Board.

Birmingham City Schools currently face a high rate of chronic absenteeism. About 23 percent of local students were chronically absent in 2022-23, higher than the statewide rate of 18 percent. Many districts have seen increasing rates of absenteeism since the pandemic.

Rallying Parents

Woodfin, who has been very vocal about truancy in recent months, said he knows the challenges some families face getting their children to schools.

“We have families who live in our public housing dealing with every issue under the sun,” he said. “They deal with issues of underemployment or not being employed at all, they deal with family issues, there are drug issues. And that has an impact on what that family can do for their children.

“It is my hope that this initiative will rally our parents, neighbors, and educators so that we can make sure our children are present and supported to fully engage in their education,” said the mayor. “It is imperative that our community understands that every day counts.”

Foster said Every Day Counts concept “is something we’ve never done before, but an incentive I believe is necessary to tackle the issue at hand. Failing to attend school regularly negatively impacts the entire child, so if we can do something to support our residents and improve attendance rates – we will.”

She told residents and parents, “our goal is to ensure that we are there as a support and backbone to you and your families to ensure your kids are able to attend school each day. This is one of the many efforts we are putting in place to address the challenge of truancy and school absences.”

Through the Every Day Counts initiative, HABD public housing residents will have access to additional resources that support regular attendance and improved literacy, like transportation assistance to and from school and homework help. Additionally, HABD households whose school-aged children achieve perfect attendance for the month will be entered into a raffle where an HABD household(s) will be chosen to receive financial support toward a housing expense.

“It Can Be Done”

On Thursday, Johnson was the inaugural winner, receiving $445 from a raffle that included the names of other parents.

Johnson said she will use her award toward her rent payment and added it’s her duty to get her children to school every day.  “That’s my job,” she said. “They can’t get themselves to school. Me, being their mother, (I understand) it’s important for their education.”

She gives a simple line of advice for her fellow parents who struggle to get their children to school. “Reach out to someone who’s in the same school,” she said. “Partner with someone next door to you and carpool. (And) I used to walk my kids to school before I got a car, so, it can be done.”

Sullivan cited rising attendance rates in some Birmingham schools, but said more work must be done system wide.

Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D. (Barnett Wright Photo, The Birmingham Times)

Sullivan said several Birmingham City Schools have had success in reducing chronic absenteeism like Carver High School which had 50 percent chronic absenteeism in 2021 is at 9 percent now, but a lot more work needs to be done systemwide.

“In-Person Instruction”

Students who miss a class get a phone call; if they miss three days, they get a letter; anything more, they get a home visit by an attendance officer, he said.

“Regular and consistent school attendance is crucial to academic success,” Sullivan said. “We know that our scholars learn best when they have quality, in-person instruction and learning opportunities. Our educators look forward to working with students every day to ensure their success.”

Birmingham School Board President Jason Meadows, formerly a school attendance officer, said he was pleased to see the initiative.

“Every day missed, is never recovered because the rest of the students [keep going],” he said. “So, if a student misses a day, they never catch up. They’re always that day behind,” he said.

Every Day Counts officially launches February 1, 2024. HABD residents are encouraged to contact their Community Center or visit habd.org for more information.