Absent in America: How buildOn Is Fighting Chronic Absenteeism
An empty desk in the back of the classroom. A few days of school missed here and there. Textbooks left on the shelves of unopened lockers.
The signs of chronic absence look harmless enough, but the long-term ramifications of frequently missing school are serious. And a recent report suggests that chronic absence might be much more common—and harmful—than once thought. Because showing up for school is so important, buildOn has made student attendance one of the key metrics we look at when gauging the academic impact of our service learning programs.
A 2016 report released by the United States Department of Education found that more than 3 million high school students are chronically absent. Those 3 million students account for an astonishing 19 percent of all students who attend American public high schools, meaning that almost one in five high schoolers misses 15 or more days of school per year. Those 15 days equate to roughly 10 percent of the academic calendar.
The consequences of chronic absence have been well-chronicled in publications such as The Atlantic and The Washington Post. As reporter Elissa Nadworny recently wrote in a November 2016 article for NPR, “Research shows that chronically absent students are way more likely to fall behind and, eventually, drop out.”
A 2016 report released by the United States Department of Education found that more than 3 million high school students are chronically absent.
In Detroit public schools, the rate of chronic absenteeism is around 50 percent. But students who skip school and cut classes are often doing so for serious reasons. They may be caring for younger siblings or they may be one of the 1.3 million students in U.S. public schools who are experiencing homelessness.
The research also shows that students who are chronically absent in elementary school are likely to have that pattern follow them into high school. And once that pattern has been established, it is difficult to change. But buildOn has found a novel approach to breaking this cycle and getting kids to show up for school by engaging students in community service.
On average, students who are involved with buildOn are in attendance for 15 more days of school than students who are not involved with buildOn.
We’ve written in the past about teens experiencing homelessness or missing too much school, like Lakwana from Chicago or Steve from Bridgeport, and these same students becoming more academically involved and finding themselves through service with buildOn. But Lakwana and Steve aren’t alone. In fact, they are just two of the thousands of students who are changing their communities. It has been proven that students who are involved with buildOn miss 2.1 times less school than their peers. That means on average, buildOn students are in attendance 15 more days than students not involved with buildOn. And our data also shows that as service hours with buildOn increase, days absent decline:
This graph is based on data collected from 21,152 individual student records at 34 schools during the 2015-2016 school year.
Alondra Martinez, a buildOn student from Curie Metro High School, has to agree with the statistics. “buildOn motivates me to come to school mainly because I know I get to do service while hanging out with people who I didn’t have classes with,” she says.
It has been proven that students who are involved with buildOn miss 2.1 times less school than their peers. That means on average, buildOn students are in attendance 15 more days than students not involved with buildOn.
Alondra has contributed over 400 hours of service to her Chicago community. But students don’t all have to serve hundreds of hours to see the positive effects. It has been shown that for every day (8 hours of service) a student serves with buildOn, that same student is in school a full day more than her peers. That statistic is backed by more than 20,000 individual student attendance records collected directly from our partner high schools and with 99% statistical confidence.
One day of buildOn. One more day of school.
As a result, last year buildOn students attended an extra 21,267 days of school when compared to their peers. “We don’t generalize that number because we know every day matters,” says buildOn U.S. Chief Program Officer Paul Boye. “Each day in school increases a student’s likelihood of graduating high school, matriculating in college, and achieving success later in life.”
buildOn alum Alex Espinoza can attest to that. He credits buildOn with the success he had in high school. “If I didn’t have buildOn I would have been just in the streets doing nothing,” Alex says. “Before buildOn, I didn’t want to go to college. I thought of myself as below average.”
It has been shown that for every day (8 hours of service) a student serves with buildOn, that same student is in school a full day more than her peers.
buildOn’s service learning programs are proven to increase student attendance. This infographic highlights chronic absenteeism in America and the benefits of being a part of buildOn:
By serving others, Alex became more involved in his school and in his community. “buildOn gave me something to do after school, and it helped me to figure out what I wanted to do after high school,” Alex says. He was encouraged to continue his education in college from not only the the buildOn staff at his high school but also the people he met when he was out serving the community. Alex is now the first in his family to attend college and just completed his first semester at National Louis University in Chicago with straight A’s.
We know that the number of students who are chronically absent from school in the U.S. is staggering. But we also know that serving with buildOn gives students an expanded sense of what they can achieve and who they can be. We know that through buildOn, a student can make the journey from being chronically absent in high school to graduating and looking forward to college—all while helping his or her community.