(WTNH) – Chronic absenteeism has been a big problem in Connecticut schools in the wake of COVID-19. A new study released by the Department of Education shows educators have found a way to help more children get to class.

When COVID-19 sent students home at the start of the pandemic, Connecticut educators say they noticed an increase in chronic absenteeism. The Department of Education used $10 million in COVID relief funding to create the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program, or LEAP, to get students back on track.

“When we have students who are not showing up in school, it’s very important to us and we’ve got to figure out what we can do,” said Dr. Charlene Russell-Tucker, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Education.

A new study finds that when educators started visiting students and families at their homes in the summer of 2021, attendance increased by 15 percent. Russell-Tucker says those visits allowed leaders to connect families with resources they needed.  

“Attendance, and you’ve covered it a lot recently, really is a precursor to engagement and engagement is the precursor to learning,” Russell-Tucker said.

The study focused on 15 school districts and nearly 8,700 students. Leaders say home visits had a greater impact on middle and high school students.

They noticed a significant difference in Hartford, where attendance rates increased nearly 30 percentage points in six months. School leaders there say they made home visits at night and on weekends.

“We were able to connect with them in a different way because they were available and comfortable,” said Nuchette Black-Burke, Hartford Public Schools. “It’s after work. I might entertain a phone call versus trying to reach them during the middle of the day.”
Russell-Tucker says their work won’t stop. They’re hoping better attendance today will lead to more achievement tomorrow.

“By knowing what works, we can continue to advocate for continued and sustainable funding both at the state and at the federal level,” Russell-Tucker said.

Taking the “LEAP” for students to have a brighter future.