North Brunswick schools to combat chronic absenteeism

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NORTH BRUNSWICK – The township school district received a grant to help combat chronic absenteeism in school.

According to Mary Ellen Engel, the school nurse at Judd Elementary School, one out of 10 children who are chronically absent miss 10 percent or more of school days, which is about one month of learning.

“Improving student attendance is essential, cost-effective but often as a overlooked strategy to ensure our students are on the track to succeed,” Engel said during a Township Council meeting on Aug. 7.

A grant for $10,000 has been received from the New Jersey Collaborative Center for Nursing. Engel  said that only 17 percent of Kindergarteners who are chronically absent achieve reading proficiency in third grade, and eighth to twelfth graders who miss extended periods of school time are seven times more likely to drop out and not graduate.

Therefore, the grant will be targeted for last year’s Kindergarteners in order to implement a new plan.

Anna Tupe, the school nurse at Livingston Park Elementary School, said that the plan is to focus on placing fliers and posters around town, posting messages on police signs and the township’s TV channel, increasing social media messages, requesting a township proclamation in support of the mission, expanding before and afterschool opportunities as well as scholarships for low income families who need those services, establishing emergency before and afterschool programs when necessary, expanding programs for students with special needs and enhancing transportation options in case a child misses a school bus or a family has limited access to a car.

“This is really a district-wide initiative that will benefit the entire community,” Tupe said. “We see North Brunswick leading this effort.”

Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack added that school absentee rates also affect school test scores and ratings of schools.

“We know that children who attend school more are able to learn more and more satisfactorily complete their studies and have higher scores on all types of exams,” Engel agreed.

However, Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said the focus is on much more than score statistics.

“We must get kids to come to school because they will do better when we have them with us, and it has a profound impact on those who are more disadvantaged, so we have to make sure we have equity and access for all,” he said.

Contact Jennifer Amato at [email protected].