HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Students in Hartford are heading back to class on Monday, and an event was held on Friday to get everyone back in the spirit of learning.

The event, dubbed The Hartford Public Schools Community Canvass, aimed to raise awareness about the first day of school, which is next Monday.

School officials went into neighborhoods, handing out information to get everyone ready for a new school year.

Viviana and a “back to school crew” joined Hartford Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez to canvas neighborhoods near Sanchez Elementary School. Dr. Rodriguez said the event was “really driving home the message that first day of school starts.”

With Spanish being their first language–the superintendent led the discussions with nearby business owners. Dr. Rodriguez views as partners to help encourage student engagement…

“Having students in school and supporting their efforts is a community affair so we are out here in the community so we deliver that message,” Dr. Rodriguez said.

The Park Street neighborhood was specially targeted—with data showing fewer students in the area attending school on a frequent basis. These were conversations the “back to school crew” was ready to have.

“Meeting them where they are,” Janelle Edwards, Engagement Specialist for Sanchez Elementary School, said. “Going in with compassion and understanding. Bridge that gap, be that support for it.”

The superintendent said that getting kids to come on the first day sets the tone for the rest of the school year.

“First day is the most important day,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “I mean, research shows if they miss the first day, its harder for them to get acclimated to build those relationships. So we want to remove that barrier.”

According to the superintendent, chronic absenteeism nearly doubled during the pandemic, so that’s why she’s doing everything she can now to get kids back to school.

“If a kindergartener or a first grader is chronically absent, by third grade they likely won’t be able to read on grade level,” Dr. Rodriguez said.

In Hartford, 1 out of 10 kindergarten and first-grade students missed at least 18 days of school
About 44% of students were “chronically absent” during the 2020-21 school year, meaning they missed at least 10% of the school year. And for September 2021, about a third of Hartford students were chronically absent.

With the state easing its COVID-19 guidance, the hope is that this school year, will be different.

Another event to kick off the school year was held on Thursday, the annual convocation. It’s a time when teachers come together just before the start of school.

The last convocation was held at the XL Center in 2019, just before the start of the pandemic.