Providence public school’s latest attempt to tackle chronic absenteeism


PROVIDENCE – The city’s public schools have long suffered from chronic absenteeism.

In the 2020-2021 school year, when COVID-19 disrupted learning for everyone, 59.4% of students in Providence were chronically absent.

An educator told members of the Johns Hopkins University researchers that “half of the children on our list go missing every day.” Another school told the team that “10% of classes are missed each day, with two to three delays on top of that. ”

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Johns Hopkins took a deep dive into the struggling school system in the summer of 2019, leading to the state takeover of the district.

This year, the district is trying something new: hire 21 community specialists, many of whom look like the students they serve, to reach families in more meaningful ways.

“We want to make sure there is a deep connection to the community,” state education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said on Tuesday. “We want to understand what is going on with the families and bring them in. ”

She said research has shown that if students have an adult who really matters, it reduces students’ social and emotional stress by up to 50%.

This summer, community specialists joined with guidance counselors to make over 400 calls and over 400 home visits to families.

Acting Superintendent Javier Montanez has said in the past that schools will wait a week to start calling absent students. This year, he said, they started calling families after the first two days of school.

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These community liaison officers are not educators or counselors. They are members of the Providence community.

“They look like our students,” Infante-Green said. “They speak the language of our students. It’s a different kind of connection.

Terrell Robinson attended Mount Pleasant High School, where he is now the Senior Community Specialist. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY Robinson moved here at the age of 16 and played basketball for Mount Pleasant. He attended Rhode Island Community College but moved to Brooklyn to care for his mother.

The Community Specialist is Terrell Robinson, who works with youth and families at Mount Pleasant High School, to address chronic absenteeism.

A volunteer coach for the Mount Pleasant freshman basketball team, Robinson already has a deep feeling for the students that he now encourages to stay in school.

“It was a dream job for me,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get into Mount Pleasant for years. I connect with families and engage with children. They already know me from coaching. I want kids to know they have a caring system.

Robinson, 39, greets his students as they arrive in the morning and is a familiar presence in the hallways during transitions.

“Some of these kids, I went to school with their parents.”

Robinson already has big plans: forming small groups where students can share their frustrations with their education and make suggestions for improving it.

Robinson also plans to form a parent-teacher association and host town reunion-style events to make families feel welcome in the sprawling high school.

Marisol Lebron, Community Specialist at DelSesto College

Marisol Lebron, community specialist at DelSesto Middle School, is already making a huge difference for at least one family, who lost their home in a fire this summer.

Lebron was making one of several routine calls to families this summer. When she asked a mother if she needed anything, the mother told her that she needed a computer because her daughter had lost everything in a fire.

“I started asking questions, ‘Are everyone okay? “”

Lebron contacted his manager and the guidance office. She brought school supplies to the family and organized transportation from the new apartment where they lived with relatives.

“It’s amazing,” she said of the experience. “I am also an associate pastor in my church. This is what I was called for.

Raised in Puerto Rico, Lebron, 54, arrived in Rhode Island at the age of 24 and graduated from CCRI, where she studied to become a caregiver, a role she played with students with disabilities. special needs at DelSesto.

“I speak Spanish. I want families to see that they have a voice through me.

Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.


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