Maine schools struggling with absent students
by Taylor Cairns
Tuesday, July 23rd 2019
RUMFORD (WGME) -- Some Maine school officials say that one of the biggest problems in the state is students missing too many school days.
“When I first joined RSU 10, and looked at the numbers, initially you think that’s just atrocious,” RSU 10 Superintendent Deb Aldin said.
Data shared with CBS 13 from RSU 10 shows the number of absences per school over the past three years. It states that on average, a quarter of all students in the district miss more than 10 percent of the school year, which averages to about 18 days.
"My first year, Mountain Valley High School had almost half of it's students missing 18 days or more of school," Aldin said.
That number was in 2016. In the three years since, district officials have tried a variety of ways to try and lower the number of what is known as "chronic absenteeism."
"Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 10 percent or more of the school year," Rumford Elementary School Principal Jill Bartash said.
She says that Rumford Elementary still has about a quarter of its students missing 18 days or more of the school year, but says they're doing their best to lower the number.
“We sent letters home, we had in school incentives, we put things out on social media," Bartash said. "At the end of the year we felt good about what we accomplished, until we got the data back and saw how many are still missing classes."
Superintendent Aldin says that parents and guardians need to realize how important school is to kids, both academically and socially.
"It's not just about keeping up with things like Math and English, it's the social development between kids and their peers," Aldin said. “Kids come back from being out a while and they may not feel emotionally as attached. That snowballs.”
Principal Bartash says the educational component can also set kids back years.
"Our biggest problems are in kindergarten," Bartash said. "Some parents we have spoken with just don't see the importance of early education, but these are the foundation blocks for how kids conduct themselves in later grades."
She says the school will also try to help kids catch up in their lessons, but it's not very effective.
“Whatever you can do to catch a child up in the 20 minutes you can steal in a day, or whatever you can send home, is no where near as rich and productive as what they do at school for 7 hours,” Bartash said.
Superintendent Aldin says they've tried more aggressive methods with the older kids.
"In one school we had a school resource officer do a welfare check for us," Aldin said. "In Rumford we have had school officials, and on occasion police, come with us to check on a home and try to get them hooked on the idea that school is the best thing for them.”
She says they are upgrading some of their educational measures over the summer to try and lower the numbers next year.
"We're improving our website to be better at communication with parents and students," Aldin said. "We also are going to try more methods and incentives to get kids to like coming to school."
She says that the problem extends beyond their school district.
“I think our numbers are worse than some, the same as others, but it is definitely a statewide problem," Aldin said.
Principal Bartash says more community members need to be helping the school district with this problem.
“Those kids are starting at a real disadvantage the whole rest of their schooling," Bartash said. “Everybody needs to be worried about this. Everybody needs to do their part and help to get kids to school everyday.”
The first day of the school year for RSU 10 is August 28.