Baltimore City Public School staff hope phone bank will bring absent students back to class – Baltimore Sun

A buzz of soothing voices filled a lecture hall at the Baltimore City Public School headquarters on Sunday afternoon.

Whispers rose from six volunteers who cradled phones on their shoulders as they dialed number after number, trying to reach more than 1,300 families of students who missed school this year. The Super Outreach Sunday phone bank is a push by district employees to get in touch with students who have 10 or more unexcused absences or have yet to attend school since it started four weeks ago.

Although the Sunday phone bank is a first for the district, Baltimore City Public Schools uses several methods to reach absentee students daily. As the school year approaches, some schools have also hired “summer liaisons” to send letters, call parents and visit students at their homes to find out what obstacles might prevent children from coming. at school and to help solve them.

The coronavirus pandemic and fear of students getting sick or bringing the virus home remains the number one reason children miss school, said Tanya Crawford-Williams, district coordinator for the Office of Conduct and Safety. student attendance. In addition to COVID-19 concerns, there are students “who have moved away, lost their accommodation; parents have lost their jobs, (they) have no food,” and other families “have suffered trauma and struggle to reconnect with school,” Crawford-Williams said. “We have a variety of reasons.”

One of the purposes of the telephone bank is to reach out to students to help them with resources, such as bus tickets, food or childcare vouchers for families experiencing homelessness. Some parents don’t realize their child has missed a certain number of days of school until they get a phone call, Crawford-Williams said.

“If it’s a parent who may feel embarrassed by the number of absences, we are not here to judge you. This is not a punitive appeal. It’s really just to support you and listen and validate what the barrier is and try to resolve it,” Crawford-Williams said.

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In the dimly lit lecture hall, volunteers gently snapped phones into receivers and scribbled notes on oversized spreadsheets listing student names. “We’re here to help,” Laurie-Lynn Sutton, a phone bank volunteer and district summer and extended learning director, tells a woman on the phone. The woman is the guardian of a student and had concerns about purchasing school supplies and a uniform. “Everything we provide,” Sutton assured the woman before scheduling a follow-up with her tomorrow.

Nearly 78,000 students are enrolled in Baltimore City schools. That number is tracked by an annual “child count,” a statewide census that determines how much funding the district will receive from the state budget, said Andre Riley, spokesman for the city ​​schools. Sunday’s telephone bank is the last weekend before the September 30 deadline for the census.

Attendance rates have increased this year compared to last school year, which was the first to return to in-person after virtual learning at the height of the pandemic, said Lori Hines, director of conduct and attendance. students in the district. But the rate of students missing 10 or more days, called chronic absenteeism, has increased so far this year, she said. Among the students joined on Sunday were volunteers focused on connecting with high school seniors to encourage them that graduation is within reach if they come to school and complete their academic credits.

Baltimore City Public Schools has created a “presence hotline” during the pandemic where parents can call with questions, such as how Maryland’s truancy law works. District staff are trying to avoid filing truancy charges against parents and students, Crawford-Williams said.

If a student is away for five days or more, they will start receiving daily robocalls. If the absence continues, the student’s school will file a request with the district, whose office will then attempt to meet with a family to determine why a student is having wrongful absences and how the school system can help. Sometimes those meetings work and the absences stop, Crawford-Williams said. Other times, the school will file a statement of charges.

“But those are in very rare cases,” she said.

For now, district staff hope the phone bank will successfully reconnect families with their children’s schools. A second telephone bank is being prepared for winter break, a time when students who missed the first semester of school often return.

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