BRAWLEY - There is a known correlation that school attendance can affect the academic success of a child, and the Brawley Elementary School District is addressing truancy -- a problem the district is looking to solve and reduce.
By law, children from ages six to 18 are required to go to school. Pre-kindergarten to first grade are not required to attend classes, however, those who do not go through these grades are considered at a disadvantage compared to others their age.
Students who miss 10 percent, or 18 days of the school year, are considered at risk. The state takes into account the excused, unexcused, and suspensions when considering a student’s absences.
Information on the amount of truancy in each school become public thanks to the California Department of Education dashboard, which is considered the new report card for California schools.
According to the report, Brawley elementary schools have 391 students who have a chronic absentee problem. Superintendent Jaime Silva said the district has been aware of the issue and has been taking steps to combat the alarming amount of students with chronic absentee issues.
“We don’t just want the students here. It’s because students who do not come to school on a regular basis are missing out on valuable instructional time,” said Silva, “and as a result of that, their academics suffer.”
Currently, the overall percentage of absences in the Brawley district is at 13.80 percent, within the average of Imperial County and two points off of the 11.1 percent that the state of California has overall. In BESD, Oakley Elementary School has the highest percentage of absentee students at 18.3 percent, and Phil Swing has the lowest at 8.2 percent.
The district does have a process to help absentee students through the Student Attendance Review Board, or SARB. High risk students are identified at the beginning of the school year and the district begins making phone calls, offering parents a chance to schedule conferences with the teachers and other resources to help such as connections to county services or parenting classes.
“Sometimes there are a variety of different factors that are causing the absence, but we continue to work with the parent to find out what is taking place at home,” said Yolanda Barbosa, the district's SARB officer.
Barbosa said the SARB is always there to help families. There is also a Student Attendance Review Team or SART, a group that reviews student cases with the school sites. SARB is for the more extreme cases, according to Barbosa and Silva. However, if the absences become too excessive, and no change is seen after all other steps have been taken, then the courts will become involved.
“Imagine a child who is missing 18-30 days in kindergarten to third grade -- (he) is going to have a very difficult time reading and to continue year after year until they are in junior high, they can run the risk of not promoting from eighth grade,” said Barbosa.
Currently all BESD schools have strategies to combat excessive absences. This includes rewards, weekly raffles for students with good attendance, parent/child dinners, and special recognition for those who are able to achieve perfect attendance all year long.
However, while these strategies work for many students, it is not working for the 391 students on the list, Silva said. He has already met with faculty and tasked the schools with creating new strategies to help these students. So far, there has been a push to include more outreach to parents, as well as more home visits to find out what is going on in each home, according to Silva.
Silva expressed the fact that BESD needs to change the culture of the district, to become an institution that makes students want to be at school. That includes more activities for students, such as band and Associated Student Body groups that get them involved on campus. It also means gaining support from parents.
“We want the best for every child, and it would be music to our ears to see all children coming to our schools happy and excited about learning and not worrying about school being a hostile environment,” said Silva. “This is one of our top priorities.”
The principals of Hidalgo, Oakley, Swing, and Witter will present their plans to improve student attendance at their schools at the next Brawley Elementary School board meeting February 12.