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School Attendance and Mentoring: What's the Connection?

JUNE 26, 2018

School AttendanceIn my work as a Program Director at MENTOR, I talk about mentoring with many different audiences, with the goal of ensuring that caring adults serving as mentors, and the programs that support them, have access to high quality resources and tools that equip them to be effective partners, allies, supports and friends to the young people they serve. At MENTOR, we believe that all young people need and deserve to have mentors who support, encourage, and celebrate them as they navigate life’s challenges and experiences and realize their potential. Across all the adults I have spoken to, there tends to be agreement that mentors have made all the difference in our lives, no matter where we found them – in school, on the sports field, in a formal mentoring program, or just informally in our neighborhoods and communities. Those who had mentors at critical times in life when support and inspiration were needed often share with me that this changed everything for them, while who did not often share that it would have.

As places where students have the opportunity to connect with caring adults every day, schools have incredible potential to help ensure that young people have access to the caring relationships they need to thrive. Earlier this spring, I presented at a conference called Attendance Matters in Augusta, Maine, where I connected with educators and other school practitioners to explore the connections between student attendance and caring mentoring relationships in schools.

The event was hosted by Count ME In, a partnership of schools, youth, families, and the community including businesses, state agencies and community organizations working together as a team to determine how they can better support all children so they become successful, engaged learners. The conference brought together about 200 educators and school/district educators from all counties in Maine to understand the impact of school absenteeism on student engagement and academic achievement, learn about research and practice-based strategies, programs and policies that have the potential to increase student attendance, and share strategies for creating as safer and more welcoming environment for staff, families and students.

Maine is one of many states that has begun to look closely at the issue of chronic absence after data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in 2016 illuminated disturbing trends in student attendance in communities across the nation. According to this report, over 27,600 or 15% of Maine students are chronically absent, meaning they miss 3 weeks or more of school in a year. Unfortunately, Maine isn’t alone; 500 school districts across the nation reported that 30% or more of their students missed at least this much school in 2013-2014 (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Students who miss school this frequently are less likely to read proficiently by third grade, more likely to fall behind in middle school and eventually leave high school without graduating. (NOTE: For those interested in seeing the impact of this issue in their own state or community, view summary data by accessing this interactive story map, or get more information by visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) page).

It was encouraging to witness the coordinated efforts led by Count ME In to address this serious issue by exploring creative, collaborative solutions, and I was grateful to be among the partners invited to share promising strategies. I was invited to represent MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) and our partnership with the National Student Attendance, Engagement and Success Center (NSAESC). The mission of the NSAESC is to disseminate evidence based practices and build and facilitate communities of practice to help students attend every day, be engaged in school, and succeed academically, so that they graduate high school prepared for college, career and civic life. The Center, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students, is managed by Jobs for the Future in partnership with Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduate’s Center, Attendance Works and MENTOR.

MENTOR and our national network of state and local affiliates support the work of the Center by providing information, tools and coaching to schools and districts looking to implement mentoring programs that promote student attendance, engagement and success, including a model called Success Mentors. This mentoring model pairs students at risk for chronic absence with a caring mentor who can help promote a sense of belonging in the school environment, and build strong, strengths-based relationships with students and families while supporting them in identifying and resolving barriers to attendance. The model was piloted in NYC in 2012-2013 as a part of the Mayor’s Interagency Task Force, where it was studied and found to have promising results (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2013). In 2016, as a part of the White House My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, it was launched in 30 communities across the nation as part of their efforts to address chronic absenteeism. The NSAESC has made information about best practices for this model, and other promising strategies for promoting student attendance, engagement and success, available to the public on their webpage here (a more permanent website for the Center is currently being developed). You can learn more about the Success Mentors model here.

School AttendancePictured to the left: Vincent Crawford, Assistant Coordinator of Program Planning and Development from East Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, speaks about his students’ and staff’s experiences with a program called Success Mentors, which pairs students at risk for chronic absence with a caring mentor who can help promote a sense of belonging in the school environment, and build strong, strengths-based relationships with students and families while supporting them in identifying and resolving barriers to attendance.

In addition to sharing best practices on the Success Mentors model with an open and enthusiastic group of educators and practitioners, one of my favorite parts of the conference was hearing from Vincent Crawford, Assistant Coordinator of Program Planning and Development from East Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut. East Hartford Public Schools is in their first year of implementing a Success Mentors program to promote student attendance, and Vincent joined us to share information about the early impacts he’s seen on school culture and student experiences, as well as lessons learned from their pilot year. Vincent was joined by Denise Marois, Program Coordinator, School-Based Initiatives from the Governor’s Prevention Partnership, an organization that offers youth prevention programs in Connecticut based on state-of-the art research and trainings and a state affiliate of MENTOR. Vincent shared how he received no-cost support and coaching from the Partnership through the NSAESC to ensure that his Success Mentors program was informed by best practices for safe and effective mentoring.

It was inspiring to hear how these two organizations partnered, with help from the NSAESC, to build the district’s capacity to implement a high quality mentoring program. Vincent also shared some student stories that illustrated the impact of the program in action – not only on student attendance, which is improving, but on the daily experiences of students and adults. He shared one specific story of a student whose challenging family situation became known to the school via his mentor, and how this led to the school addressing an issue that arose with his behavior in a more sensitive, responsive way. To me, this is really at the heart of what Success Mentors is about - helping schools know their students and families better, so they can support them better.

If you are interested in the Success Mentors model, and receiving no-cost support to launch a mentoring program like this at your school or district, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I encourage you to take advantage of the wealth of information available by the NSAESC, by joining us on an upcoming webinar (dates listed on their webpage) or joining their listserv here.


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