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Hartford schools getting creative in effort to boost attendance

The challenge is a fun way to get students excited about being in school and hold each other accountable through friendly competition.

HARTFORD, Conn — Hartford Public Schools are getting creative in the effort to boost attendance as schools across the state deal with a rise in chronic absenteeism during the pandemic. That means students are missing at least 10 percent of the school year.

The district is hosting a Winter Attendance Olympics in which schools compete against one another and are awarded medals for meeting attendance goals.

“The entire month we have these awesome challenges going on. We have three big events focused on attendance, behavior and most improved student," said Naylor School Acting Principal Alesia Ettson.

Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said the challenge is a fun way to get students excited about being in school and hold each other accountable through friendly competition.

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“We want students to develop those healthy, productive habits that lead to scholarship, meaning that lead to them being good students. One way is to be in school every single day," said Dr. Torres-Rodriguez.

Data from the district shows the chronic absenteeism rate in Hartford Public Schools was just under 28 percent during the 2019-2020 school year. Last year, it jumped to 44 percent, and so far this year, that number is at 45 percent.

Dr. Torres-Rodriguez called it frustrating because fighting chronic absenteeism has been a focus of hers for years, with teams already in place at schools before the pandemic, but COVID threw a curveball.

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"We have a structure, we have a model, actually other districts are using our model and oh by the way, part of our model and our framework and our approach cannot be implemented because we’re only operating a district with 75 percent of our staff because we’re short-staffed.”

Education leaders point to multiple factors at play keeping kids out of school.

During remote learning, it was everything from a lack of resources, technology issues and general disengagement that kept students from logging on.

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Now, with students back in school, it's issues like fear of catching COVID, not logging on during quarantine and transportation or employment issues.

“Multi-dimensional, complex and can not be solved in isolation in schools and by schools," said Dr. Torres-Rodriguez.

At Naylor School, Principal Ettson and her staff are seeing positive trends during the Attendance Olympics.

"In the past couple of weeks, we've had our probably highest average daily attendance thus far, which we've been at 93 to 95 percent consistently," said Ettson. 

Angelo Bavaro is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at abavaro@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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