Importance of School Attendance

Rationale for the Group
Chronic absenteeism is prevalent problem across the nation (U.S. Department of Education, June 2016). It is commonly defined as “missing at least 10 percent of days in the school year, or a month or more of school, excused or unexcused” (U.S. Department of Education, February, 2016). Every year approximately 6 million (13%) students across the United States miss more than 15 days of school a year (U.S. Department of Education, October 2016). This issue impacts students of all ages, race and ethnicities, and genders across the United States.
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The prevalence rates of chronic absenteeism are surprisingly comparable across numerous demographics. Interestingly, although the largest variance of prevalence rates differs according to race, the disparity is relatively marginal. Recent data provided by the Department of Education (June, 2016) found that the highest rates of absenteeism are amongst American Indian (22.5%) and Pacific Islanders (21.4%). Followed by Black (17.3%), Two or more races (16.4%), Hispanic (14.1%), White (12.7%), and lastly Asian (7.1%) (U.S. Department of Education, October 2016). While each group itself does significantly vary from the overall chronic absenteeism rates in the United States as a whole (13%), it should be noted that the variance between American Indians and Asians is substantial. Additionally, males were found to be equally as likely to be chronically absent from school as females (U.S. Department of Education, October 2016). Furthermore, there was no significant correlation in terms of geographical location and rates of chronic absenteeism (U.S. Department of Education, October 2016).
Unsurprisingly, high school students have the lowest attendance rates at 20% however; junior high (12%) and elementary school (10%) chronic absenteeism rates are not too far behind. The fact that this problem does not discriminate against geographical location, age, race, or gender signifies a greater societal problem.
In an attempt to better understand which students are most at risk, researchers have utilized a variety of lenses to understand the etiology this widespread issue; however very few have looked at it from the elementary school aged students level (Robinson et al., 2018). Preliminary research indicates that elementary school attendance is predictive of students overall academic success Haynes, 2015). Similarly, Lehr, Sinclair, and Christenson (2004) found that attendance patterns of 3rd graders were predictive of poor academic achievement and high school drop out rates. Given the extensive amount of research in the field of psychology demonstrating patterns (i.e., thoughts, behaviors, beliefs) that get played out later in life, as a result of events experienced at an earlier stage of life it, is not surprising that the value a child places on his/her school attendance can be traced back to their earliest school experiences. While a student may have more control over their attendance, as they get older, that is not typically the case with young children in elementary school.
Since chronic absenteeism appears to begin in elementary school and persist throughout ones academic career, there is a need to intervene as early as possible. An early intervention would have to be designed to target the role of the parent, as they are primarily responsible for ensuring that the student gets to school during these early school years; setting forth a pattern for years to come (Robinson et al., 2018). While many parents are aware of the importance of school attendance for their children’s academic success, many believe that it is acceptable for their child to miss two or three days of class a month without an academic impact (Haynes, 2015). Regardless if an absence is excused or not, it is included in a students overall attendance rate. Although absences (excused or unexcused) do not generally become chronic for most students, the reasons for the absences may have value as to why some students are more prone to developing chronic absenteeism.
Many factors lead to chronic absenteeism such as environmental situations (poverty, homelessness, transportation) in addition to school structure/climate (education style, safety, discipline, coursework) (Kearney, 2008). Parents and guardians have a significant impact on the factors that contribute to a students attendance patterns in elementary school. While many of these factors are outside of the parents control (i.e., transportation, illness, weather) there are many factors that they do have control over (i.e., school routines, planned vacations, value of regular attendance). Therefore a program that intervenes at the elementary school level may have a profound impact on students’ future educational outcomes (Haynes, 2015). Perhaps the most interesting factor that contributes to chronic absenteeism is the relationship and level of support from parents as well as teachers in a student’s life (Haynes, 2015). Having a caring adult can be an important source of support for a student to not only come but also stay in school (Haynes, 2015). A caring adult can be a parent, teacher, coach, or mentor that cares for the student emotionally (love and care) or instrumentally (i.e., transportation, meals, help with schoolwork etc.) (Haynes, 2015). Unfortunately, many students do not have sufficient positive relationships with enough caring adults to help them succeed (Haynes, 2015).
Chronic absenteeism has been linked to many short-term consequences such as poor academic achievement to more severe, long-term implications such as dropping out of school (U.S. Department of Education, February, 2016). Furthermore, students who are chronically absent and drop out of school are more likely to be involved in violent crimes, abuse substances, become pregnant as teenagers, and have poor mental health (Kearney, 2008). These students are also more likely to be unemployed, live in poverty, and be on government assistance (Stuit & Springer, 2010). In an effort, to intervene as early as possible and potentially change student long-term beliefs about school attendance, it is hypothesized that merging the school and parents beliefs on the importance of regular school attendance, at the elementary school level, can have positive long-term effects for the student as well as society.
Specific Objectives of the Group
The purpose of this group would be to support and educate parents whose children have been identified by the school district as chronically absent and help parents understand both the short and long-term effects of their child’s chronic absenteeism and methods that they can take to make a change in this pattern. This will be a time-limited, psychoeducational group for parents of children who were chronically absent from school the previous school year. The primary objective of the group is to increase school attendance of the group member’s child.
One goal of the group is for parents to become more involved in their child’s education. Research shows that involved parents serve as positive allies to preventing low attendance rates (Robinson et al., 2018). Members will learn skills, strategies, and information to help them increase their child’s attendance in school. Members will gain a better understanding of the short and long-term effects of chronic absenteeism. They will obtain skills to communicate with their child as well as with the school.
Group Composition
Group membership will be defined as parent(s) of children in elementary school (1st– 5th grade); whose child was chronically absent in the previous school year. The maximum number of members will be 8 parents; regardless of parental dyads verse single parents. If a child has two parents in their home both parents are welcome to join the group, however the maximum number of members remains at 8, regardless of how many parents represent each child. Additionally, a child may only be represented by a maximum of two parents. A second or third group may be established to run concurrently with the first group or during the second half of the school year, if enough interest is expressed. If more interest is expressed then able to accommodate with a second or third group, potential members will be placed on a waiting list for the following year or the second half of the school year. Parents whom are not able to join due to limited space will be provided an informational packet regarding the effects of chronic absenteeism, and may be referred for outside counseling if deemed necessary.
Practical Considerations
This group will consist of 8 weekly sessions, not including the individual face-to-face session with the school counselor, or the pre-group session. The group will meet every Friday, for the first 8-weeks of a new school year, with a purpose of imparting information onto parents about the importance of their child’s regular attendance and the impact it has on their current academic success as well as potential long term effects of poor attendance. The hope is that the parents will learn skills and gain knowledge that will benefit their child’s attendance rates in the upcoming school year and beyond.
Given that the group members will be parents of children who attend the identified school, the group will meet at the school. This is an ideal, meeting location as it symbolically will join the parent and school together with the child. The meetings will take place in the school cafeteria. The cafeteria will provide a large open space that is private and free from distractions. Prior to group member arrival, the leader(s) will arrange the chairs in a circle in the middle of the room. The cafeteria also provides ample amount of windows and lighting as opposed to alternative options such as the gymnasium or band room that lack window and may appear cold and unwelcoming. Additionally, the cafeteria is relatively free from distractions like the décor in a classroom. Furthermore, meeting at the school also allows the children to get help with their homework in the library at the afterschool program while the parents attend the group meeting.
Each session will last approximately an hour and a half. This first 40-minutes will allow ample amount of time for members to check-in with each other and discuss any issues or concerns with the material from the previous week. The remaining 40-minutes will be devoted to learning the new material and discussing any concerns or issues that they have with implanting the new material. 

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