Public School sign detail on school bus
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A Connecticut Education Department report released in December 2020 showed a sharp rise in absenteeism among students at the start of the pandemic so it used $10.7 million in COVID-19 funds to address the problem in at least 15 school districts. 

The program, a partnership between the Education Department and the Connecticut Education Research Collaborative, found improvement with home visits through the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program or LEAP. 

According to an analysis of the program, for most students identified attendance rates increased by four percentage points in the month immediately following the first LEAP visit. Attendance rates then continued to rise in subsequent months, reaching an average increase of approximately seven percentage points for students served in the summer of 2021 and nearly 15 percentage points for students served during the 2021-22 school year after 6 months

In the Hartford School District alone, nine months, after the first LEAP visit, students in grades PK – 5 experienced approximately an eight-percentage point increase in attendance. Students in grades 6-12 experienced approximately a sixteen-percentage point increase in attendance rates relative to similar students who were not served over the same time period, suggesting that the impact of LEAP was significantly larger in later grades.  

“LEAP has created a valuable funding source so Hartford Public Schools can expand upon our ability to empower our staff to conduct home visits with families at more appropriate times of

 the day like nights and weekends,” Hartford Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said. “Connecting with our parents at times when they are more comfortable, and available, has led to more productive conversations and an increased level of student and family engagement.” 

But the type of visit to the home mattered. 

LEAP visits that occurred at a student’s home had significantly larger impacts on attendance than LEAP visits that occurred via Zoom or phone. LEAP visits at a student’s school also had larger impacts on attendance relative to Zoom or phone visits.

The analysis of the visits also found they would need to be sustained. 

“While large infusions of funding can greatly help to support, and in some cases, jumpstart the process, because the primary cost of the intervention is largely in terms of human capital, sustained funding is likely a more effective approach to intervention,” a report released Thursday concluded. “There are additional costs to short-term funding in terms of: (a) reduced participant buy-in, (b) increased difficulties with staff recruiting, and (c) eroded trust from the community that comes from seeing a successful intervention disappear shortly after it is launched.”

While all the federal COVID-19 funds dedicated for education have not yet been spent, it’s unclear if this will be an ongoing initiative of the Education Department.  

The other districts that participated included Bridgeport; The Capitol Region Education Council (CREC); Danbury; East Hartford; Manchester; Meriden; New Britain; New Haven; New London; Norwich; Stamford; Torrington; Waterbury; and Windham.

Before the program started in April 2021, absenteeism was up 39% since the beginning of the pandemic and had risen to an average of 11 days of missed instruction per student. Low-income students were more likely to be absent from school, with 23% of those students missing at least 15 days of instruction in the first half of the school year. Schools across the nation are struggling to find ways to reduce absenteeism and keep students engaged in their studies.