Why do students miss school? What barriers do students and families face? And how can we as a community do our part to help remove these barriers to ensure all students attend school every day?

This quarter, our A-Teams, Operating Board, and Board of Directors have asked these questions and more in order to build understanding and awareness of the issues surrounding chronic absenteeism, as well as to continue to create collaborative solutions that remove barriers for students and families.

What is chronic absenteeism?
Chronic Absenteeism refers to missing school for any reason – including excused absences as well as unexcused. Students are considered chronically absent after missing more than 10% of school days (18 days or more throughout the school year). These absences do not have to be consecutive; in fact, missing just two days per month throughout the year – for any reason – will result in a student being chronically absent.

What is the difference between chronic absenteeism and truancy?
Truancy refers only to unexcused absences. In Tennessee, a student is considered truant at five unexcused absences and may be subject to legal intervention.

Although attendance rates dropped during the 2020 pandemic and then were even lower during the 21-22 school year, the good news is that they are trending back up. MNPS is on track to meet its goals for average daily attendance as well as chronic absenteeism, thanks in large part to several MNPS-led initiatives at the school and district level, as well as the work of many dedicated community partners.
However, as our A-Teams, Operating Board, and Board of Directors learned in our conversations and learning over the past few months, the barriers our students and families face continue to shift, requiring us to take a whole-city approach solving this problem.

First, chronic absenteeism is not concentrated in any single part of our city. The rising cost of housing and lack of affordable housing options is having a very real impact on our students and families. When families have to move across town to find affordable housing, they often stay enrolled in the same school to avoid educational disruptions. But transportation then becomes an issue, as they have to either navigate public transportation or find their own transportation to and from school. Any disruption in that – a car that needs service, a caregiver that is ill and can’t drive, or even just buses that aren’t running on time – often means a student misses all or part of a day of school.

Second, the increasing cost of living in Nashville/Davidson County also means that an increasing number of students have to work to contribute to family living expenses. A high school student that has to work late into the evening will understandably struggle to get up early the next morning for a 7 am high school start time.

Third, we all have a role to play in making sure every school is a place that is safe and welcoming for ALL students. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is critical and must continue to be a focus, and clubs and extracurricular activities also play a vital role in providing connections and relationships for students that help them feel a sense of belonging.

How is Alignment Nashville supporting MNPS efforts to reduce chronic absenteeism?
Here are a few examples of ways our A-Teams are bringing MNPS and community partners together:

  • Our Community Achieves A-Team works at the school level to remove barriers to learning by identifying needs, cultivating relationships, and aligning supports to ensure school communities thrive. If your organization would like to be part of Community Achieves, please click here for more information. 
  • Project Reconnect recruits community partners to support MNPS outreach efforts to help students and families remove barriers to attendance. For more information about joining Project Reconnect, please contact Nathan Shulman at nathan@alignmentnashville.org
  • Our Student Voice A-Team is partnering with Margaret Allen Middle School to strengthen student voice, which research has proven is linked to student attendance. If you would like to learn more about this pilot, please contact Robert Robinson at robert@alignmentnashville.org.  
  • Our Behavioral Health A-Team is developing a workshop for families and caregivers to build awareness about mental wellness and available resources in schools and the community. This training will be available through Family University in 2023. 

Reducing chronic absenteeism will require a whole-city approach; MNPS cannot solve this issue alone. We will continue to share ways you can play a role in making sure every student is in class every day.