From Relief to Resilience: Fostering Student Engagement and Tackling Chronic Absenteeism

Significant efforts have been made in Germantown Hills School District 69 to tackle chronic absenteeism by identifying underlying causes and implementing effective strategies. The reasons behind absenteeism are diverse, but the impact of the pandemic on student behavior was unmistakable. The transition from remote learning to in-person classes posed challenges for some students, who struggled to readjust to the traditional school setting. Academic gaps exacerbated by the pandemic heightened anxiety and contributed to increased absences.   

Principal Kate Williams at Germantown Hills Middle School shared how her school is combating absenteeism with a multifaceted approach. This has already yielded promising results, as evidenced by a 64% decrease in chronic absenteeism reported on the 2023 Illinois Report Card. The school has ramped up efforts to educate and communicate with students and parents about the importance of attendance through various channels, including phone calls, individual meetings, letters, emails, student check-ins, morning announcements, and school assemblies.   

Another approach has been the establishment of a three-tiered attendance system, mirroring the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support utilized for academic interventions. Tier 1 interventions are universal for all students, while Tiers 2 and 3 provide more targeted support, including monthly meetings and individualized plans for students requiring additional assistance.    

Additionally, school leaders have prioritized creating a positive and engaging school culture to foster students' desire to attend. Initiatives such as morning sports intramurals, buddy programs pairing middle schoolers with elementary students, and house competitions inspired by themes like those in the Harry Potter series aim to cultivate an inviting environment. The district incentivizes attendance through weekly and monthly prizes, including rewards for improved attendance, with the intention of transitioning from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation over time.

The district is committed to ongoing improvement in this area and has included chronic absenteeism reduction as a priority in its School Improvement Plan for the 2023-24 academic year, demonstrating a dedication to enhancing student engagement and academic success.