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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Monday, October 9, 2023

High School Afterschool Programs: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Source: FAB Youth Philly

By Guest Blogger: Rebecca Fabiano, MSED, Executive Director of FAB Youth Philly 
(previously published on FAB Youth Philly)
For seven years I ran a high school out-of-school time (OST) program that I started from scratch. It was by far one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. I did a LOT of on the job learning from, and with my students. Here’s what I came to know that helped me to design activities and programs for participants.  

High school students come to our programs for various reasons and they utilize our program in accordance to their developmental needs. This means that we need to develop activities, supports, etc. that intentionally meet those needs, and making sure that staff is adequately trained and supported to meet those needs. 

Here are a few tips that I’m excited to share with you, which you can use to design your high school OST programs: 

Ways OST programs can support 9th graders making the transition to high school. This includes: 
  • Developing new friendships (have a buddy or big bro/sister program with older/experienced youth in the OST; workshops on peer pressure, bullying etc.) 
  • Developing study & time management skills (offer workshops, games like Minute to Win It, Jeopardy, etc.) 
  • Understanding how to ‘be’ a high school student (what classes to take, how to read transcripts through workshops, etc.) 
  • Lots of exposure activities (that also involve making new friends- trips, movies, guest speakers, etc.) 
Source: Beyond Expectations- The Power of High School Afterschool

Ways OST programs can support 10th graders by helping them to build their friendships, explore their identity and other life skills and start to expand their networks towards post-high school goals-college/career. This includes: 
  • Health & wellness & sexuality activities (Sept-Dec) 
  • Identity exploration through guest speakers (Sept-Dec) 
  • Prep for 1st summer job (Jan-June) (bring a nurse on campus to expedite work papers, etc.) 
  • Help them develop skills and experiences that will prep them for work including civic engagement/ project based learning activities. 
  • Offer PSAT classes 

Ways OST programs can support 11th graders by focusing on college and career exploration via work-readiness clubs, leadership opportunities (this could be the big bro/sister program) and internships; continue with civic engagement activities: 
  • Career panels (fall) 
  • Career days (fall) 
  • Develop a workshop on a fave topic for younger youth (spring) 
  • Developing career related documents (cover letter, resume, etc) (spring) 
  • Start college tours/hold college spirit days, etc. (spring) 
  • College essay writing workshops/games/contests, etc. (spring) 
  • Offer SAT classes (fall & spring) 

Ways OST programs can support 12th graders by zooming in on the college prep and post high school process: 
  • College tours (fall) 
  • College panelists (fall) 
  • Essay writing workshops/games/contests, etc. (fall) 
  • “Now that you’ve been accepted to college” workshops also: getting along with roommates, developing resistance skills (avoiding peer pressure for drinking, sex, etc.), how to avoid using all your meal plan points in one week, etc. (spring) 

Let us know: How do YOU design programs to intentionally meet the developmental needs of young people? Email your ideas to:

[For more information on high school afterschool, check out Temescal Associates High School Afterschool Resources.]


For nearly 25 years, Rebecca Fabiano 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. As a program leader, she has successfully raised funds and managed program budgets; hired and supervised staff; developed and sustained strong community partnerships and designed award-winning programming.
Fab Youth Philly (FYP) has a unique, holistic model for youth development. Their three-pronged approach to youth development is aimed at creating relevant, engaging, and empowering learning opportunities at the individual, professional, and community level. First, they provide innovative, award-winning summer and afterschool programs for teens with a focus on workforce development programming. Second, they connect with youth development professionals working with or on behalf of youth through their Center for Youth Development Professionals (CYDP), which offers competency-based professional development and networking opportunities. Third, they consult with other youth-serving organizations to provide a range of consulting services, ranging from curriculum development to retreats and small


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Monday, October 2, 2023

LGBTQ+ Youth Rights

Source: NorCal ACLU 

By Sam Piha

As discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth is on the rise, it’s important to know that there are federal and in some cases, state laws, that protect LGBTQ+ youth from harassment and restrictions. State protections vary from state to state. 

Below is a brief review of LGBTQ+ youth rights and advice to LGBTQ+ youth by the ACLU and GLSEN (last updated May 2018): “You have the right to be yourself! Here is some basic information about LGBTQ students’ legal rights in public schools.

  • Freedom of Expression: Some schools try to silence students who express their opinions about LGBTQ issues. If you go to a public school, you have a constitutional right to express your views and identity.
  • Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs): A GSA is a noncurricular student-led club -- just like Chess Club or Fellowship of Christian Athletes -- for students with a shared interest in LGBTQ issues. Federal law requires public high schools that allow any other noncurricular clubs to allow GSAs and treat them no differently from other clubs.
  • School Dances: Public schools can't stop you from bringing a same-sex date to prom or homecoming who otherwise is allowed to attend, nor can they tell you that you can't dress a certain way or run for prom king/queen because it doesn't fit traditional gender roles.
  • Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students: Transgender and gender nonconforming students often face discrimination over dress codes, access to restrooms and locker rooms, and their chosen names and pronouns. Contact the ACLU LGBT Project if you want help making sure your school treats you with respect and keeps you safe.
  • Harassment: If you're being harassed or threatened, go to the principal or another official right away. Keep detailed notes with dates of all incidents. Put the school on notice that it has to protect you.
  • Privacy: Schools should not out you to anyone without your permission, even if you're out to some people at school.”


The NORCAL ACLU adds: 

“If you suspect that your school is mistreating you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, here are some basic rules to help you out:

  • Be respectful and follow the rules!
  • Don't give your school any excuses for treating you badly by behaving badly yourself. This can make things harder to solve in the long run. Explain your grievances in a mature, respectable and respectful manner.
  • Document everything!
  • Keep a record of the ‘Six W’s” each time you are harassed:
    • WHO was involved,
    • WHAT happened,
    • WHERE it happened,
    • WHEN it happened,
    • WHO you reported it to, whether they did anything about it, and when,
    • And if there were any WITNESSES.

Keep copies of anything in writing that you file with the school and be sure to write down the date (or even better, ask them to stamp it as received, with the date). Also take notes about any additional conversations you have with school administrators and any actions they take (or fail to take) and be sure to write down the dates for those too.

File a complaint! Your school is required by law to have a clear and publicized process for filing complaints of harassment. If the process is not posted around campus like it should be, ask what this process is, and follow it—you may also remind your school of their obligation to post these materials. Your school must keep your identity confidential and protect you from retaliation.”

For more information or assistance, you can contact your local and/or the national ACLU.

In an effort to speak out against recent political attacks on LGBTQ+ youth, we have posted several LIAS blogs and authored a briefing paper entitled, Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth in Afterschool Programs and Opposing Anti-LGBTQ+ Attacks. Feel free to share these resources with your network. 

Lights On Afterschool 

Join more than 8,000 communities and 1 million Americans in celebrating afterschool programs for this year's Lights On Afterschool! This nationwide event, organized by the Afterschool Alliance, calls attention to the importance of afterschool programs and the resources required to keep the lights on and the doors open.  Everything you need to plan a successful event, from case studies to sample materials, is available in the Lights On Afterschool Planning Kit.

To learn more about Lights On Afterschool, register an event, access event planning tools, or to find out what’s going on in your area, visit

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