Imagine a fleet of nearly 300 New York City school buses full of students on their way to class. That’s 16,000 elementary and middle school children now on their way to success in school, work and life – thanks to a community that came together to make a positive change. Before the community took action, these students were “chronically absent” (missing more than 40 school days every year). Today, they have all improved their attendance rate, and United Way of New York City and its partners have shown that everyone benefits when we join forces to make a difference.
In 2010, United Way of New York City partnered with 60 public schools and 29 other organizations in their community to get more kids in the classroom. Members of the community – from teachers and school officials to parents and volunteers – worked with students through individual and group counseling, after-school activities, and much more. More than 30% of the students who have taken part in these activities are no longer chronically absent. Behind that statistic are promising students like Victoria Ruiz. Victoria used to skip class on a regular basis, until the school reached out to her family to figure out why she was missing so much school. Together, they worked toward a solution. Since then, Victoria says proudly, her “cutting [has] improved completely.”
Tackling chronic absenteeism is about more than handing out gold stars for good attendance. Research shows that a child’s attendance rate in 9th grade is a better indicator of dropping out than 8th grade test scores. The results in New York City seem to confirm this: among high school seniors enrolled in the new attendance strategy, the drop-out rate was nearly cut in half. If we can duplicate those results across the nation, the government could save $45 billion in extra revenue and reduced costs every year. In other words, every school bus we fill represents change that benefits us all.
The reasons students skip school can range from health issues to unreliable transportation and so much more – an important reminder that education, income and health are all connected, and that we need to improve all three of these essential building blocks if we want to improve people’s lives and strengthen communities.
That kind of lasting change is only possible when we all come together to be part of the solution. We invite you to make a difference in the life of a child in your community by taking the pledge to become a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor.