San Ysidro boosts student attendance

New strategies in the San Ysidro School District to get more students routinely in their seats seem to be paying off.

School officials said the percentage rate of children in class each day has gone up since the district starting focusing on attendance last year.

Arturo Sanchez-Macias, deputy superintendent, said the attendance rate for the 2015-16 school year was 98 percent. That’s three points higher than the prior year, and four points more than 2013-14. The district operates six elementary schools, one middle school and a preschool program.

Last year, the attendance rate in the South Bay Union School District was 95 percent, and in the Chula Vista Elementary and National school districts, it was 96 percent. The state Department of Education’s target for districts is at least 90 percent. 

San Ysidro is boosting attendance with a program that rewards students for coming to school and provides support and resources to families in need.

Students who are in class daily receive certificates for a month of perfect attendance and get to go to special events.

Treats have included a lunchtime dance party, special meals made by the nutrition services department, family outings to Chargers games and a visit with Mexican-American professional wrestler Rey Mysterio. The Chula Vista native talked about how proud he was of his own perfect attendance record in school.

San Ysidro has also stepped up the way it communicates with parents by having outreach consultants make home visits to connect families with any extra assistance they might need to ensure kids get to class.

Superintendent Julio Fonseca said there are a variety of factors that keep students from attending school every day, including a family’s living situation.

“It goes back to all the symptoms of poverty. That’s a major area of concern for us,” Fonseca said. “If you’re going to be evicted or are homeless, you’re not going to send your kids to school and figure out where they’re going to sleep that night.”

San Ysidro serves about 4,900 students in one of the county’s most impoverished areas. Most are English language learners who come from low-income families. Last year, the district identified nearly 30 percent of its students as homeless.

Attendance is critical to student success, especially in the early years.

A recent report from the state Attorney General’s Office found 83 percent of students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade can’t read at grade level by third grade. Chronically absent means a student has missed 10 percent or more of the school year regardless of whether the absences were excused. 

Fonseca said the district’s new programs, like sports and visual and performing arts, have students excited to come to school.

“What we found was, students wanted more options, more opportunities,” he said. “Anything we do to engage kids to stay on campus longer is helping us get kids to want to come to school.”

He also said the family outreach has worked to raise expectations and create a sense of urgency about attendance.

“It’s just letting the community know we really care about what the kids are doing,” he said. “You raise the standards for the kids and they will rise to the occasion.”

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