September is Attendance Awareness Month, and Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago’s team of trained clinicians are working this fall to help students start the school year strong, come to school on time, and have the resources they need to succeed.
CIS Student Supports Managers are master’s level professionals with backgrounds that include social work, counseling, and education, and each Student Supports Manager provides direct services to a caseload of about 50 students.
For students struggling with attendance, CIS Student Supports Managers work with them to create a plan to improve their attendance record, and they provide them with the skills and resources they need to make progress on their plans. In addition to attendance, the CIS team supports students who need extra help with their behavior, grades, or social-emotional learning skills.
This fall, CIS Student Supports Managers are partnering with Chicago Public Schools teachers, school leaders, and families to make student attendance a priority.
Since the pandemic first hit in 2020, Chicago Public Schools has experienced higher rates of student absenteeism. The Board of Education reported that 49 percent of Chicago Public Schools’ low-income students were chronically absent in 2021–22, which means they missed 18 or more school days that year. In the 2021–22 school year, overall Chicago Public School attendance was 86.9 percent, a decline of nearly six percentage points compared with the 2018–19 school year (the last school year before the pandemic).
In response, the CIS team is continuing to join with Chicago Public Schools to employ proven strategies that support Chicago young people as they return to the classroom for the 2023–24 school year. These include:
- Reaching out to parents and families directly — at back-to-school bashes, at school events, and by phone, email, and in person — to encourage overall school attendance and participation in the services that CIS of Chicago provides.
- Partnering with teachers and colleagues in the school building to discuss targeted interventions for students that may have a history of low attendance or chronic absenteeism.
- Participating in professional development and planning meetings with school staff to discuss attendance trends and how to boost student engagement.
- Providing students with backpacks full of school supplies from Cradles to Crayons — one of the 200 organizations that CIS partners with — so they are physically prepared for school.
Research shows that student attendance has a direct correlation to student success. One of our Student Supports Managers on the West Side, Diamond Howard, is continuing to reinforce with students the importance of showing up. She tells her students, “I need you here,” because she understands that when students have a caring adult in the school building, someone who knows them personally, they are more likely to come to school. She builds trusting relationships with them and advocates for their needs within her school community.
Bernadette Bajzek, a Student Supports Manager at a Southwest Side school, meets with students individually to understand the root causes of any attendance issues and then tailors her supports accordingly. One student on Bernadette’s caseload, for example, felt anxious and isolated at school, like she didn’t belong. Bernadette started meeting with the student regularly and provided her with the tools she needed to build healthy relationships in the school building — and the skills to cope with anxious feelings. This improved the student’s academic motivation and her social and emotional skills. This year, Bernadette is expanding her attendance support. She’s partnering with school administrators on a program that addresses issues for entire families.
And they are not alone. Bernadette and Diamond join 34 other CIS Student Supports Managers in providing direct services at schools across the city. This year, the team’s targeted interventions will support 1,620 Chicago students.