Wu, Skipper go door-knocking to help get kids back in school

Some Boston students and caregivers got an unexpected knock on their door Wednesday: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and School Superintendent Mary Skipper joined over 50 volunteers as they contacted residents in Roxbury to encourage kids to come to school this year.

The effort was part of an annual event to curb chronic absenteeism — defined as when students miss at least 18 days of school in an academic year. Missing that much school places students at risk of lower academic performance and dropping out, according to AttendanceWorks.

The program, led by Boston Public Schools’ Re-Engagement Center, is now in its sixth year, and targets Boston students who dropped out or have been chronically absent.

Chronic absenteeism isn't new, but the percentage of students routinely missing school soared during the pandemic. More than 40% of Boston students were chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year. Last year, rates of chronic absenteeism fell to 37%, but still remain far from pre-pandemic levels.

Missing school is more common for Hispanic and Native American students, as well as students with disabilities, according to the district.

Emmanuel Allen, director of the Re-Engagement Center, said on Wednesday that getting kids to school is less about data and more about understanding a kid's unique circumstances.

“You have to have a one on one conversation with the student,” Allen said. “For some students, it might be financial, for some students, they may have moved too much. For some students, they may actually just be kind of tired of school … the key to this work is really just having an individual conversation and open conversation that allows students to sort of express where they're at.”

Allen understands how important these conversations are from personal experience. He dropped out of school at age 17, eventually returning and graduating from Jeremiah E. Burke High at age 21.

One of the students Allen said he spoke with Wednesday morning had missed school due to chronic nose bleeds.

“When you look at a student on paper, and they missed 140 days of school, you can kind of draw assumptions if you're not careful,” Allen said after the event.

It wasn’t until he spoke with the student and learned about the nosebleeds that Allen could create a plan with them to return to school, he added.

Boston begins the new school year Thursday for kids in grades 1 to 12, with kindergarteners returning on Monday.

Emily Piper-Vallillo Education Reporting Fellow
Emily Piper-Vallillo is an Education Reporting Fellow for WBUR.



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