Monday, December 18, 2023

Enjoy Your Holiday!

All of us at Temescal Associates and the How Kids Learn Foundation wish you a peaceful and restful holiday! 


Monday, December 11, 2023

Growing Together: Cultivating Inclusivity in Our Community Garden

Source: Akoma Unity Center

Research tells us that young people’s connection to the outdoors and nature contributes to their healthy development. This connection can be promoted by involving youth in gardening. We will post several LIAS Blogs on the topic of gardening in afterschool. Below we offer a guest blog from Akoma Unity Center on their community garden project. (Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 

Growing Together: Cultivating Inclusivity in Our Community Garden

By Guest blogger Akoma Unity Center. (This blog was originally published on Akoma Unity Center.)


In a fast-paced world, finding a tranquil oasis where individuals of all ages and backgrounds can come together and connect with nature is a rare gem. Our community garden, nestled in the heart of the city, is precisely that and so much more. Beyond being a sanctuary for plant enthusiasts, it is a thriving hub that celebrates diversity, fosters collaboration, and cherishes the spirit of shared learning. In this blog post, we invite you to explore how our community garden has blossomed into a truly inclusive space, embracing everyone, regardless of their age, background, or gardening experience.

Cultivating Diversity

Step foot into our community garden, and you’ll witness a vibrant tapestry of faces and stories from various walks of life. We take immense pride in providing an open-armed welcome to individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of gardening expertise. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a complete novice, you’ll find yourself embraced by a warm and supportive community.

Source: Akoma Unity Center

The Power of Collaboration

At the heart of our community garden lies the essence of collaboration. Here, gardeners don’t just tend to their own plots; they work together, exchange ideas, and lend a helping hand. It’s a place where experienced green thumbs generously share their knowledge with beginners, fostering an environment of growth and camaraderie. Through joint efforts, we not only cultivate beautiful blooms and delicious produce but also cultivate lasting friendships.

Respect and Understanding

Respect is the cornerstone of our garden’s culture. We celebrate the uniqueness of each individual, understanding that our diverse backgrounds enrich our collective experience. Here, conversations flow freely, and perspectives are exchanged with an open mind. We learn from one another, breaking down barriers and building bridges of understanding that transcend age, culture, and language.

Source: Akoma Unity Center

Learning Together

Our community garden is more than just a place to dig in the dirt; it’s a haven of continuous learning. Seasoned horticulturists share their wisdom through workshops and tutorials, while young enthusiasts infuse the space with fresh ideas and innovations. Together, we explore sustainable gardening practices, experiment with new crops, and embrace the ever-evolving world of horticulture.

An Inclusive Space for All

As the sun sets behind the horizon, casting a golden glow on our bountiful garden, the sense of belonging is palpable. Children play, elders share stories, and friendships blossom across generations. Our community garden is a testament to the power of inclusivity, where the simple act of planting seeds cultivates a sense of togetherness.


Our community garden stands as a living testament to the beauty of embracing diversity and nurturing an inclusive space. It is a place where laughter reverberates, friendships flourish, and a shared passion for nature unites us all. As we invite you to step into this blossoming sanctuary, we extend an open invitation to everyone, welcoming you to become a part of our green family. Together, let’s continue sowing the seeds of inclusivity, respect, and shared learning in the fertile soil of our community garden.


Akoma Unity Center (AUC) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, grassroots organization committed to the progress of African American youth, families, and communities. Akoma’s programs and services are specifically designed to meet the needs of historically excluded African American youth and communities. Programs include; Afterschool Program, Summer Day Camp, SOUL FOOD Community Dinner Night, male mentoring program, Rites of Passage, Advocacy for youth of color, STEAM Fair- Back to School Giveaway and Toy/Coat giveaway.

At Akoma Unity Center, the unwavering mission is to educate, heal, and transform historically excluded communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). They are dedicated to creating a more equitable and just society by organizing individuals, cultivating healthy families, and empowering communities to overcome systemic barriers. Through their comprehensive programs and initiatives, they strive to foster holistic healing, educational empowerment, and economic opportunities. By addressing the unique challenges faced by BIPOC communities, they aim to dismantle inequities, uplift voices, and create sustainable change.


Monday, December 4, 2023

Gardening in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha 

Research tells us that young people’s connection to the outdoors and nature contributes to their healthy development. This connection can be promoted by involving youth in gardening. And afterschool programs are particularly well positioned to offer gardening activities. Perhaps you have a staff  member, teacher or parent who has a passion for gardening and who could lead the “club”. (Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 

“By incorporating a garden into an afterschool program, educators can create a dynamic and enriching environment that promotes active learning, fosters a connection with nature, and encourages positive health and environmental habits among participants.” [1]

There are many benefits for young people who are engaged in gardening. 

“Through school gardens, students become stewards of the environment and gain a stake in the community and the world. This empowers them to discover the connections between personal health, education and opportunity.” [2]  

According to author Brianna Flavin (Rasmussen University), there are many benefits to engaging children and adolescents in gardening activities: 

“1. It encourages them to eat healthier: It makes some intuitive sense. Half the fun of gardening is getting to eat what you grow. But the positive effect a sun-warmed strawberry has on your little ones will continue to ripple throughout their lives. 

2. It provides engaging, moderate exercise: If you’ve ever spent an afternoon in the garden, you’ve probably experienced time flying and sore that students involved in hands-on school gardening programs developed. 

“These days all kids could benefit from a little more physical activity and sunshine they’ll get while gardening. Activities like moving soil, carrying a heavy watering can, digging in the dirt and pushing a wheelbarrow can promote gross motor skills and overall strength for a more fit body. Plus, these activities, known as “heavy work,” have been shown to help kids stay calm and focused.” [3] 

3. It builds a sense of confidence: Teachers and parents alike recognize how crucial confidence can be in a child’s ability to grow and learn. The process of tending a plant and seeing it bloom or produce food takes time and patience, but the payoff in satisfaction is equal to the investment. 

Source: Rethink: Rural

“It is wonderful for building a child’s sense of competence, as they engage in a real-life activity that they might have previously seen as only for adults. Give any children the experience of dabbling a tiny seed into a hole, watering it, protecting it and watching it explode into life and growth—and they might just feel like they have magic powers!” [4]

4. It develops STEM & analytical abilities: Gardening exercises important reasoning, initiation, planning and organization skills,” Matthews says. She advises parents or teachers to have their kids do a little gardening research before diving in. Children can read up on the various stages of growth, the tools they’ll need or different ways the plants are used after they grow. For even further development, Matthews suggests working on math and science skills by encouraging your children to observe their plants’ life cycles. 'Children can measure their plants or make other observations and record their observations in a journal.' 

5. It relieves stress: The main benefit of gardening is learning to relax,” says counselor and maternal child nurse Orly Katz, LCPC. Katz emphasizes that gardening helps children make a habit of calming themselves. “Gardening allows kids to be alone, it allows them to breathe fresh air and be in peace by themselves.” Research indicates that the calming effect gardening has on the brain extends even beyond
the actual act of gardening.  

6. It improves focus & memory: Consistent involvement in gardening can contribute to improved alertness, cognitive abilities and social skills, according to Garden Organic. The act of gardening as a therapeutic treatment (known as horticulture therapy) has shown to be particularly effective in rehabilitating motor, speech and cognitive abilities after illness. The improvements in memory and attention were even more significant when children engaged in an activity outdoors, such as—you guessed it— gardening! 

7. It positively impacts mood & psychological wellbeing: Increased memory and focus are fabulous. But that is only part of the positive influence gardening has on the human brain. Garden Organic states that elements of gardening have the ability to trigger emotions in people.  Well beyond mood, gardening can also serve as a powerful therapeutic tool against depression and anxiety. Gardens and the act of gardening have been found to have a positive impact on peoples’ health and wellbeing.” [5] 

Amy Morin, LCSW (Very Well Family) adds to these named benefits:

  • Plant Care Fosters Responsibility: Whether it’s flowers or vegetables, caring for plants helps teenagers develop responsibility. They also gain a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence as they raise small sprouts into full blooming beauties. 
  • Plants Offer a Great Way to Connect: Plants can be a great tool for bonding with aloof kids or to help teen siblings connect in a way that doesn't involve arguing.” [6]

End Notes

Monday, November 27, 2023

How to Talk with Kids About the War in Gaza and Israel


The news coverage of the Israel-Hamas war has shown war crimes on full display. These images, which include injured and dead children, are very disturbing, especially for young people. We understand that the war is very contentious with crimes against humanity being committed on both sides. Despite our thoughts on who is to blame, it is important to focus on the need for humanity when discussing this with kids. 

Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D., is the Parenting Program Director of the Greater Good Science Center. She is a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships and children’s development of prosocial behaviors. In her article, How to Talk with Kids About the War in Gaza and Israel, (originally published by the Greater Good Science Center), she writes:

Parents and families across the world have been distressed by the war in Gaza and Israel. Those who are there (or who are connected to the people of the region) may grieve for loved ones who have been killed or fear harm and devastation. Parents everywhere struggle to understand what’s happening and how to feel about it, and to talk with our kids about the images as well as the absence of humanity and compassion they see in the news and on social media. 

In previous global conflicts, Greater Good turned to two researchers to gain insights about how to talk with kids about humanitarian crises. Abigail Gewirtz is a professor of psychology at Arizona State University; Shauna Tominey is a professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University. Here are six tips adapted from two Greater Good articles about their work: “How to Talk with Kids About Scary News” and “Five Tips for Talking with Kids About What’s Going On in the World.” 

1. Tend to your own needs- “It’s not until you recognize what your stress level is—how you are feeling—that you are really able to help anybody else,” says Gewirtz. As we search for wise words to help our children make sense of violence and inhumanity, we, too, need to acknowledge our heartbreak. Find ways to connect with your community of friends and loved ones and receive their compassionate support. 

2. Seek to understand more deeply and listen- “Taking time to go beyond the headlines and learn more can build our knowledge and understanding of a topic so that we can feel comfortable talking with children in a way that is developmentally appropriate, as well as clearing up misconceptions,” says Tominey. 

Once you know more about the context of the conflict and feel more prepared to have a conversation, you can invite your child to tell you what they’ve been hearing or wondering about it. Listen attentively to their thoughts and questions. Be curious and make space for them to keep sharing their perspective with you. 

3. Be humble and honest- “Even if you don’t have an answer to a question, talk together about strategies to look up information from sources you trust, and about what makes a source reliable,” says Tominey. 

Look for news sources that go beyond your bubble and that represent holistic perspectives. Teach your children how to be critical consumers of news and to seek out different viewpoints that represent an assortment of voices. Show them how to be aware of misinformation, which has been rampant on social media. 

Source: Greater Good Science Center
4. Prioritize humanity- While war is one of the most traumatic parts of the news right now, our conversations with our children about Gaza, Palestine, and Israel do not only have to be about this moment. We can talk to our children about individual people from these places and their life stories. 

“Your children will have friends, classmates, and community members now and in the future with diverse identities and from diverse backgrounds,” says Tominey. “Through these conversations, we can help teach children that the identities and cultural traditions each person carries are just as important to them as yours are to you.” 

Help children understand that all people have inherent worth so that they come to see themselves and others as global citizens–all of whom strive to live in dignity. 

5. Help your children to take compassionate action- “The really important thing for parents to understand is that, just like us, children need to feel that there is something they can do,” says Gewirtz. “All of us feel more awful if we feel totally helpless—and our children are no exception.” 

For example, some children may want to find ways to donate to humanitarian organizations that are helping to provide aid. Older children may want to participate in marches to express themselves non-violently. 

6. Be a haven for children to navigate their emotions- “Let them know that all feelings are OK,” says Tominey. “Help your child express their feelings in healthy ways, such as by talking about them; sharing feelings through stories, artwork, and play; taking a walk; or in other ways.” 

While violence and intergenerational trauma are realities of our world, nurturing a loving space for our children’s emotions can help them learn that compassion is, too. “Trauma tries to convince us that compassion, community, and humanity aren’t possible,” writes psychiatrist Paul Conti in his book, Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic. As parents, we can show our children not only how to imagine these possibilities but to also act to make them achievable. 

For additional resources, see “Nine Tips for Talking With Kids About Trauma.” 

You can learn more by watching the video below from PBS News Hour and reviewing these LIAS Blogs (titles linked below) on talking with kids about troubling news. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Today We Are Thankful

We know that the holidays are a time to remind us to be thankful for what we have. From all of us at Temescal Associates and the How Kids Learn Foundation, we wish you a peaceful and restful holiday! We are most grateful to all of you who work hard to support our youth in out of school time. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Hiring Part-Time, Temporary Staff to Work with Youth Isn’t Okay Anymore

Source: Rebecca Fabiano 

By Guest Blogger Rebecca Fabiano, Founder & President of FAB Youth Philly. (Note: This blog was originally published in Youth Today.)

We did something revolutionary with our two newest job postings in our youth program: offered them as full-time, year-round positions. Typically, these positions are part-time, hourly, temporary positions — and that is simply not working for us, or for our field, any longer.

Like many out-of-school time and afterschool programs, we’ve had to hire program staff at least two, even three times per year. While the function of these positions might be similar or even the same, because the time of day for the programs differs so greatly, we often have to hire different staff.

This creates a cycle of recruiting, interviewing, on-boarding, training, and off-boarding that is counterintuitive and counterproductive to the things we stand for in our field: positive relationships between youth and adults and equitable, career paths that have a living wage. It costs organizations of all sizes, but especially small organizations like ours, significant amounts of time and money, including for job postings, clearances, swag, and staff salaries. It takes up valuable time that could be put towards programming, staff training, community engagement and more, because we are doing it every three, six and nine months to be able to staff our afterschool and summer programs.

This approach to hiring is rooted in the nonprofit industrial complex and concepts like scarcity thinking. It is a waste of time, money and talent and keeps the very people we say add value to our organizations poor and less able to establish a meaningful career in our field. But most of all, for us, at Fab Youth Philly, this hamster wheel of hiring keeps us from building and maintaining trusting, caring and consistent relationships with the teens and their families we work with. If there is a new person from an unknown phone number calling or texting or sending an email every six months, how is a teen supposed to feel connected to us? How do caregivers know who to contact if they have a question or concern?

Source: Temescal Associates

“But what will these new hires do all day?” you ask. They will do and get paid for the things we ask them to do for free or outside of their work hours or for the “passion for the work”.

They will be able to attend community meetings and conduct outreach and build relationships. They will have time for planning and curriculum development. They will have time to collaborate with their colleagues — and we are hoping, as we continue to build relationships with schools and other youth-serving, nonprofit organizations and businesses. They can provide additional support in schools or public libraries or offer clubs during the day at school or at childcare centers. We see these full-time positions serving as a bridge between the school day and out-of-school time.

If you or someone you know are interested in this approach, check out the job description and others currently available on our FAB Youth Philly website. And if you’re a youth-serving organization who wants to follow the same path, here are three ways to get started:

1. Talk with your board of directors. Consider whether this move aligns with your organizational values and goals; if not, work with your board on what might need to shift. 

2. Review your budget and see where there is room to create full-time positions. We had some under-spending and talked with one of our funders about allocating this funding for the purpose of hiring full-time staff. You may have to plan a year or more out before you can offer a full-time position.

3. Talk with current or potential funders about your hiring goals and see if they are interested in testing this concept with you.

Rebecca Fabiano is the president and founder of Fab Youth Philly. For nearly 25 years, she has worked in various capacities across nonprofit and youth-serving organizations, served on boards and helped to build solid youth programs that engage, encourage, and create spaces for positive development. 

Monday, November 6, 2023

Strategies to Improve School Attendance for Schools and Policy Makers

Source: California YMCA Youth & Government

By Sam Piha 
(Note: Our series of blog posts on chronic school absenteeism
are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool.)

For decades, research has confirmed that participation in quality afterschool programs improves school attendance. This is dramatically increased when afterschool programs, schools and the larger community work together collaboratively. (In Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool, see Appendix 4 for program evaluation examples of how afterschool programs impact school attendance.)

“Research shows that good afterschool programs can not only improve academic performance but also influence school-day attendance, even when most don’t appear to make it an intentional goal. They accomplish this by: 

  • Providing socialization and peer attention in a supervised venue. Re-establishing the link between effort and results—first in a non-school activity. 
  • Engaging students in challenging activities that help them develop persistence, a trait critical to later success in school and life.
  • Providing consistent contact with caring, stable adults.
  • Increasing the sense of belonging at school.” [i]

There are many strategies to address the various causes of chronic absenteeism. There are different strategies for different settings and stakeholders.

“Now educators face a big challenge: Helping students rebuild attendance habits while addressing the barriers that have kept them out of school. Solutions are as varied as the communities schools serve, researchers say. And any attendance strategy must be holistic, touching on everything from family relationships and transportation to anxiety and school climate.” [ii]


School Level Strategies
We know that the school climate and the individual classroom practices can have a large effect on youth absenteeism. Schools can reduce these negative factors through a program improvement process. However, afterschool programs often have little control over school day practices. Afterschool programs can still partner with schools in many ways, including serving on Care Teams or IEP committees.  

“Educators must recognize that external factors are not the only deterrents to attendance. Educators’ role is to address what sits squarely in their control: the conditions for learning. A supportive, culturally responsive school environment is one that fosters strong relationships and draws students into school. Strong conditions for learning can buffer against external factors that affect chronic absence, while weak conditions can heighten chronic absence. All four conditions are critical to improving student outcomes, especially for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.” [iii] 

To reduce chronic absenteeism schools must promote positive “Conditions for Learning”. They can accomplish this through school improvement efforts.

Source: American Institutes for Research

“Educators can also work to remove obstacles to attendance, such as helping a student who has moved obtain a bus pass, adjusting a course schedule for a student who works an early morning shift, or activating social services to provide temporary relief for homelessness. It is wise to intervene strategically (i.e., for groups of students) and early (i.e., at the first sign of disengagement or a few absences).” [iv]

For a collection of articles on absenteeism published in Ed Week, click here.

Policy And Advocacy

While schools and afterschool programs can reduce absenteeism, they need policies that support and do not hinder this work. It is important that you know who the policy making bodies are at the local, state and national levels and how you can learn from them. It is also important to know what actions to take to advocate for favorable policies. 

According to Attendance Works,

“Policy Makers Can:  

  • Adopt a standard definition of chronic absence (missing 10% or more of school), whether the school is in person, virtual or a blend, support daily attendance taking.
  • Ensure the state has a longitudinal student database—ideally beginning in preschool—that tracks attendance for each student using a unique identifier.
  • Make chronic absence a policy priority and direct districts and schools to identify contributing factors to student absenteeism.
  • Promote the adoption of learning opportunity metrics (contact, connectivity, attendance, participation and relationships) in addition to chronic absence.
  • Require that school improvement plans include prevention-oriented strategies to reduce chronic absence and improve attendance.
  • Sponsor legislation that sets a common definition for chronic absence, promotes monitoring and public reporting of data, and requires schools and districts to address high levels of chronic absence.
  • Support data sharing between education, health and social service agencies and other community-based youth and family organizations to target intervention efforts.
  • Ensure adequate and equitable resources so that all students have a substantially similar opportunity to meet performance standards regardless of geographic location, and that state and local funding are sufficient to reasonably expect that all students can meet academic performance standards.
  • Coordinate and secure resources to eliminate the digital divide.
  • Use chronic absence data to identify districts, schools, student populations and communities that need additional resources to remove barriers to attendance and ensure positive conditions of learning.
  • Build public awareness and consensus about addressing chronic absence.” [v]
[Webinar Recording Available]

To view this presentation, click here.

End Notes:

Monday, October 30, 2023

Afterschool Program Strategies to Improve School Attendance

Source: Edutopia

By Sam Piha
(Note: Our series of blog posts on chronic school absenteeism
are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool.)

“Leveraging the power of afterschool programs to reduce chronic absence is especially important now given the economic challenges facing communities and schools and the growing number of students at risk of academic failure and dropping out. By having an impact on attendance, afterschool programs can clearly demonstrate how they benefit students and schools and better justify their own funding.” [i] 

There are many strategies that afterschool programs can consider implementing to reduce school absenteeism. Some of these are listed below. 

Meet with staff and provide training to build awareness of the importance of school attendance, share school and program data.

Source: Temescal Associates

- Conduct a program self-assessment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of addressing absenteeism. (In Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool, see Appendix 2 for a program assessment tool. Tally the results and discuss. Make an improvement plan, implement, and assess progress.) 

- Send A Clear, Consistent Message-About School Attendance

“They [program leaders] need to begin with a strong and clear message that attendance is important and why. This message needs to be consistent with messages from the school, and also communicated to both youth and parents. Likewise, in order to get staff buy-in, they need to understand the importance as well.” [ii]

- Improve Program Quality:“Afterschool programs impact attendance through the hands-on, creative learning approaches that tend to be more prevalent in after school programs than in more traditional classroom settings. The relationships between youth in afterschool programs with the staff tend to be far different than those with their teachers.” [iii]

- Monitor Attendance Data and Practice:“In order to know the extent of the issue and where to focus your efforts, it’s important to track attendance and progress. Be sure that staff take and maintain records on attendance daily. This should also be coordinated by talking with the school attendance office regularly.” [iv]  

- Offer Academic Support:“Some of the ways that after school programs impact attendance include tutoring and homework assistance – forms of academic support…. This support network both assists the youth with the content area, but also increases their self confidence in the work they are completing.” [v] 

- Recruit School-Day Teachers as Afterschool Workers: Having teachers be part of the afterschool program strengthens the connection with the school and individual teachers. 

- Incentives, Contracts and Recognition: After identifying youth participants who are often absent, develop ways to incentivize attendance. Consider working with the youth to develop a contract related to attendance. Afterschool programs, often times, in and of themselves, are a reward to youth who participate and is something they look forward to at the end of their school day.

- Provide Personalized Early Outreach: Notice absenteeism and intervene early on. Don’t wait for it to become “chronic”. Identify these youth and see if you can identify and mitigate some contributing causes. 

“By providing a personalized and early outreach approach you can increase your chances of success. Someone reaching out to a family regarding attendance issues should already have a relationship with them. There needs to be some rapport that enables open conversation and trust. Knowing the issues that are impacting attendance is important to begin to consider ways to help. Are there health issues, transportation issues, shelter issues?” [vi]

- Involve Parents and Guardians: Often it is not enough to engage youth alone. We need to involve parents and guardians to address chronic absenteeism. “Some programs, when they stop and consider it, haven’t really invited parents to the program…Reach out and invite them to the program. Hold a parent meeting, host a dinner or reception where they meet staff and youth show off their work or an activity. Consider the time of an event and how you can support the parents, especially those with other young children, to maximize attendance. Some programs offer day care for younger siblings or offer dinner during the event, so they don’t have to rush out and worry about that afterwards.

Parents will tend to be more invested when they know and better understand the positive impacts and negative consequences of attendance at school. This includes both excused and unexcused absences, which collectively, when they increase, have an impact on the youth. A positive program culture that is inclusive of youth involvement, increases youth commitment and ownership in the program, and enables youth to feel like partners with the staff and adults.” [vii]

- Enlist Additional Partners: Schools and afterschool programs cannot solve absenteeism alone. They do not have control over many external factors that affect student attendance. “Some remedies to chronic absence may require a web of human resources, including pediatricians, mental health providers, schools, public health partners and others.” [viii]


“Improving student attendance is the responsibility of an entire community, not just schools. Community partners (parents, neighborhood residents, civic organizations, businesses, city and county agencies, faith leaders, etc.) are instrumental to every level of a tiered approach. Community partners can help send the message that missing just two days a month can hinder a child’s success in school. Additionally, partners can provide recognition for good and improved attendance as well as address common barriers to getting to school such as poor health, unreliable transportation, or the lack of a safe path to school. If larger numbers of students are chronically absent, then it is a sign that you may need to cultivate additional adults who can help mentor and support students.” [ix]

(Note: Afterschool leaders cautioned program leaders to make promises that they do not have the resources for and that interventions such as home visits, may require additional funding.)

Monday, October 23, 2023

Chronic Absenteeism: Myths and Causes


By Sam Piha
(Note: Our series of blog posts on chronic school absenteeism
are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool.)

“Once you better understand the ‘why’ then you can consider community resources and other supports that can assist the family and begin to improve school attendance. Developing a supportive relationship and maintaining regular contact will show the family this is about long-term change and that they could on rely on you as a support system. They need to see you working with them as a positive partnership. Your relationship and work with them needs to be seen as an ally.” [i]
Myths Of Chronic Absence—And How to Counteract Them
According to an article published by American Institutes for Research (AIR), “Standing in the way of truly addressing chronic absence are three harmful myths. These myths can be counteracted by using evidence-based approaches grounded in the seminal body of knowledge known as the conditions for learning. A safe, supportive and engaging environment for learning buffers against widespread chronic absence, and educators must examine these conditions to appropriately address this issue.
  • Myth 1: Invoking legal consequences is an effective response to poor attendance. Counter Action: Refrain from relying on punitive policies that create additional obstacles to attendance.
  • Myth 2: Attendance is simply a reflection of how much students and families value education. Counter Action: Get to know your students and their families better.
  • Myth 3: Improving student attendance is beyond educators’ sphere of influence. Counter Action: Provide support when possible and counterbalance external factors by creating a supportive school environment.” [ii] 
“Aside from physical illness and bad weather, anxiety is the top reason high school students missed school in the past year, according to the results of a student survey from the EdWeek Research Center. Sixteen percent of students who were absent for at least a day in the past year and missed school for reasons other than physical illness said they didn’t attend because of anxiety, and 12 percent said they felt too sad or depressed to attend.” [iii] 
Causes Of Chronic Absenteeism 
There are many causes for absenteeism, and they involve issues concerning the individual child, the school and/or family. “These included barriers like illness, caring for another family member, mental or emotional health issues, involvement with the child welfare or juvenile justice system, difficulties with housing or food, or no safe path or transportation to school; aversions like bullying, bad grades, or ineffective or exclusionary discipline practices; and disengagement factors like lack of engaging or culturally relevant instruction or poor school climate. Moreover, low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent.” [iv] (In Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool, see Appendix 1 for an assessment tool to help identify the causes for a young person’s absence.)

When looking at causes for absenteeism, it is important to look at the individual child. Causes include:
  • School avoidance- The child may not want to leave home due to various reasons because of a change in their life, such as a new school or just moved or issues cited below.
  • Academic struggles
  • Disabilities
  • Trauma
  • Anxiety 
  • Safety concerns at school (This could be a result of bullying at school.)
  • Social dynamics involving other youth
  • Health issues (This could involve emotional health, such as depression or anxiety. Note: Childhood asthma is a leading cause of chronic disease-related school absenteeism in the U.S., associated with over 10 million missed school days annually.)

Issues can be rooted in the family. Causes might include: 
  • School safety concern
  • History of negative school experiences
  • New child (by birth, adoption or placement)
  • Illness or death in the family
  • Divorce or separation
  • Problems with transportation
  • Mental or emotional health issues in the household
  • Children caring for others (siblings or adults)
  • Housing insecurity
  • Food insecurity
  • Lack of school clothing
  • Beliefs that schools can’t be trusted 
  • A preference for home schooling
  • Cultural or language barriers

Issues can also be rooted in the school. Causes might include: 
  • Unwelcoming school climate
  • Concerns about physical and emotional safety
  • Lack of connectedness and belonging
  • Academic challenges
  • Lack of social-emotional support

End Notes:

[i] Supporting Attendance Through After School Programming Mini-Guide
[ii] Chronic Absence: Busting Myths and Helping Educators Develop More Effective Responses
[iii] Students Are Missing School Because They’re Too Anxious to Show Up
[iv] Afterschool Focus: The Role of Attendance in Afterschool

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Monday, October 16, 2023

About Chronic School Absenteeism

By Sam Piha 
(Note: Our series of blog posts on chronic school absenteeism
are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Chronic School Absenteeism and the Role of Afterschool.)

We know that school attendance is key to student success. “Students who attend school regularly are more likely to master academic content, get good grades, feel connected to their community, develop healthy habits, and ultimately graduate from high school.” [i]

Before the pandemic, about 8 million U.S. students were considered chronically absent, according to the research group Attendance Works. By spring 2022, that number had almost doubled to around 14.7 million. (You can read or listen to this NPR piece on absenteeism post-COVID, 3 Years Since the Pandemic Wrecked Attendance Kids Still Aren’t Showing Up to School.)

Afterschool programs are particularly well positioned to reduce chronic absenteeism by focusing efforts on ensuring the quality of their programs and partnering with the school, families, and the community. 

“Leveraging the power of afterschool programs to reduce chronic absence is especially important now given the economic challenges facing communities and schools and the growing number of students at risk of academic failure and dropping out. By having an impact on attendance, afterschool programs can clearly demonstrate how they benefit students and schools and better justify their own funding.” [ii]

Terms And Definitions

The definitions provided here are to assist in understanding some frequently used terms. 

Chronic absenteeism- “Chronic absence is a measure of the total instructional time missed by a student and is defined as individual students missing at least 10 percent of school for any reason. If students miss one day every other week, that’s 18 absences annually, or 10 percent of the year.” [iii]


School refusal- “This is a term used to describe the signs of anxiety a school-aged child has and his or her refusal to go to school. It is also called school avoidance or school phobia. It can be seen in different types of situations, including: Young children going to school for the first time.” [iv]

Exclusionary discipline practices- “Exclusionary discipline, which involves removing students from the classroom through punishments such as suspensions and expulsions, deprives students of the opportunity to learn.” [v]

Punitive policies- “Imposed punitive consequences have the effect of shaming and stigmatizing students who have caused harm. Restorative processes offer an opportunity for students who have caused harm to understand the source of their behavior, take responsibility for their choices, and to learn and grow from the experience.” [vi]

Bullying- “The repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online.” [vii]

More About Chronic Absenteeism

The Sweetwater Union High School District writes, 

“Chronic Absenteeism:

  • Is a primary cause of lower academic achievement, even when the absences are “excused” or understandable.
  • Is a powerful predictor of those students who may eventually drop out of school. This affects an estimated five to seven and a half million students each year.
  • Can even affect students in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, who are then much less likely to read at grade level by the end of third grade.
  • Is caused by a variety of issues, including chronic health conditions, housing instability, involvement with the juvenile justice system, and unsafe conditions in school, among many others.
  • Is particularly prevalent among students who are low-income, students of color, students with disabilities, students who are highly mobile, and/or juvenile justice-involved youth—in other words, those who already tend to face significant challenges and for whom school is particularly beneficial.
  • Is particularly prevalent among those students who are homeless or reside in public housing.
  • May lead to substance abuse. When students are skipping school, many of them become engaged in risky behavior such as substance abuse and delinquency.
  • Affects other students, too. Not only are frequent absences harmful to the absentee, but they also have a negative effect on the achievement of other students in the classroom.
  • Can negatively influence future adult health outcomes. Indeed, the mortality rate of high school dropouts is over two times greater than that for adults with some college education.
  • Can increase likelihood of involvement with the criminal justice system.
  • Is not measured by most states or school districts in this country, which leaves many educators and communities without information they need to identify students who could use additional support to maintain regular attendance.” [viii]

End Notes:

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