GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Guilford County Schools tracks absences across grade levels. Middle schoolers are chronically absent triple the amount they were before the pandemic, and high school students are more than double.
It’s not unique to GCS. It’s a national issue, and school districts are trying a lot of different tactics to get kids back in class, including having social workers knock on their doors.
At one High Point high school, the principal is calling on parents as partners.
“I don’t want to jinx it. Knock on wood. We are having an amazing year,” High Point Central Principal Mike Hettenbach said.
Students at HPC have been in school for more than a month, and Hettenbach is counting carefully.
“244 students with perfect attendance, so we’ll start recognizing that every three weeks,” he said.
Superintendent Whitney Oakley said recently that attendance is a top priority for GCS.
“I think just culturally, it’s like easier not to go to work, easier not to go to school,” said Oakley at the Sept. 19 board meeting.
At HPC, administrators are working to change that culture.
“In the morning we have our music on … as they come in. It’s cute because the person operating the music she’s dancing and when the kids come in. Sometimes the kids are dancing,” Hettenbach said. “We’ve worked on branding the school, cleaning the school”
School social workers also reach out quickly when a student is absent, starting with a phone call.
“If that doesn’t work, we are emailing. If that doesn’t work, we do home visits,” social worker Zenaida Flores said.
Last year, their team completed 100 home visits to learn why students weren’t in school.
“They face poverty. They face transportation issues, safety issues, employment issues where they have to support their families. It can be a number of things,” Flores said.
Social workers are able to connect families with services and resources to get them back to learning.
“They come back. They get the support they need or the family gets the support they need to help their child attend more, and you see a 360 turnaround,” Flores said.
Parents are also invited to school and not just to pop in.
“They walk the halls with their child all day, participate in class … Afterwards, you can see the smile wide open,” Hettenbach said. “It makes it easier because they know we care, and it sends a message to everyone else they care as well.
They’ve found better attendance means better grades and a better experience.
“You see them being here. You see them forming relationships with staff and other students, and you see their grades turn around after that,” Flores said.
Staff members are incentivized with gift card drawings.