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“The First Step Toward Educational Success Is Showing Up”

By Coda Rayo-Garza | Sep 29 2017

No clean clothes.

Doctor’s appointments.

Cold and flu.

Transportation.

Bullying.

Depression.

Dental Issues.

These are some of the many reasons students identified for why they miss school. Last year, P16Plus conducted a root cause analysis at a local school district, surveying over 200 students.

Since 2011, P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County through the SA Kids Attend to Win initiative has led the charge to increase school attendance by helping students who are chronically absent. Being able to address chronic absenteeism requires an understanding of what underlying issues are causing the absence.

At the annual P16Plus September Attendance Awareness event, two student stories were shared that highlighted the different struggles with absenteeism. One student’s challenge was related to transportation. Savannah’s mother worked early mornings, leaving the responsibility of getting up and catching the bus entirely on her. Because there was no alternative transportation and because she lived too far from school to walk, if Savannah missed the bus, she missed school.

Angel, a high school student, struggled with attendance in tenth grade. With her mother working hard to make ends meet and battling depression, Angel made a decision that, too often, young adults are forced to make: choose earning an income to support family over schooling. Angel left school and went to work. She battled her own depression in addition to the heavy load she was already carrying.

Both of these students turned their attendance around. They credit a support network at their schools including their friends, teachers who believed in them, and community organizations. What they want people to understand about absenteeism, is that the causes aren’t always things that they can control and blaming them for those circumstances will not resolve the issue.

“The hidden causes of missing school must be revealed and addressed. Otherwise, we are just letting young minds fall through the cracks,” said Executive Director of the P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon.

We, at P16Plus, are dedicated to uncovering the root causes. Our hope is to have a county-wide student root cause analysis that will amplify student voice and reveal where we must work together as a community to ensure our youth are making it to school and at school.

City officials recognize the importance of attendance and the impact it has on academics. “Students with strong attendance records are far more likely to succeed than children with poor attendance. We’ve seen this time and again in our classrooms. That’s why I applaud P16Plus’s work to improve attendance rates in schools across San Antonio,” said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval who represents the seventh district of San Antonio.

Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw of District 2, where P16Plus is headquartered, was present to deliver the September Attendance Awareness Proclamation and says, “P16Plus is doing such important work in addressing chronic absence in our schools. The first step toward educational success is showing up.”

Last year, 47% of overall absences within the 58 participating SA Kids Attend to Win campuses were chronically absent students. 25% of students in the twelfth grade were absent and 43% of chronically absent students had at least one out-of-school suspension. At the beginning of every year, P16Plus identifies students who are chronically absent at every campus. 59% of students who were chronically absent at the beginning of the school year improved their attendance by the end of the school year. For more information and data, visit www.p16plus.org

As the SA Kids Attend to Win initiative grows and evolves, what we know for certain is that it takes a community to ensure the academic success of our young San Antonians. We cannot afford to ignore the root causes of absenteeism because they are telling. The root causes of absenteeism will help guide us, policymakers, parents, schools and the entire community in the direction of where we should focus our interventions. When we pay attention to the student voice and take time to listen, we hear things that perhaps sometimes the data is not able to inform.

This is why we will continue our dedication to San Antonio students, especially those who are made most vulnerable by their circumstances, because we should never be ok with circumstances being the reason why our youth don’t succeed.

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Coda Rayo-Garza

Coda earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy from Texas State University and her Master of Arts Degree in Political Science from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She began teaching Federal, State and Local government at Northeast Lakeview College shortly after graduation. Coda has worked for the Office of Councilman Ron Nirenberg as his Director of Zoning and Planning, as well as the Office of Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales as her Director of Policy and Zoning. She has over four years’ experience in community relations, project management and municipal government. Coda was a member of the inaugural class of the Latina Leadership Institute and has served on non-profit boards in the past. She is a mentor through the University of the Incarnate Word’s Cardinal Latina Mentorship Program.

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