HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – A school in Hartford is taking an unusual approach to fighting chronic absenteeism. The S.A.N.D. Elementary School is literally hitting the streets to pick up students with something they call “The Walking School Bus”.
“Around this time last year, our percentage was in the 60s, 60-70% of our average daily attendance rate,” said S.A.N.D. School Principal Courtney McCoy. “So, now we are hovering between 85-89%.”
The difference is a group of teachers and staff that goes out and walks the streets, picking up students who otherwise would not make it to school. They call it the walking school bus. They reach out to families whose kids did not make it to school today and ask if they can go pick them up. It not only works, but it makes for better relationships.
“School and families and parents having that trusting relationship with us to make sure that their kids are getting to school in a fun way because they are relating to us, and at the same time they’re increasing their attendance,” explained School Social Worker Damaris Cabrera.
The walking school bus started last October as cold and flu season started driving down attendance. Right now, they only do it on days when they usually see dips in attendance, such as half days and the first day back from vacation. The difference is clear in the numbers and shows a changed attitude for the school
“Everyone has to be on board and know how important attendance is in order to see improvement,” said Corinne Barney, Executive Director of School Leadership for the Hartford Schools. “We can’t work in singularity. We have to work as a team, and they work as a team.”
The goal is to get school attendance over 90%, but every kid the bus picks up gets the benefit of one more day in school.
“It’s definitely worth it,” McCoy said. “Even if we just get one, it’s worth it. that’s one more student in school than we would have had, had they not been picked up by the school bus.”
Other Hartford schools have started to take notice, and at least one plans to start its own walking school bus in a few weeks. SAND does other things to encourage kids to come to school. Crazy hair day was just last week.