Central to providing relationship-based support for the most at risk students in Santa Fe’s public schools is Communities In Schools, whose Site Coordinators currently work in 10 highest need schools throughout the city. Julia Bergen, State Director, and the rest of her team have been working to improve absenteeism in Santa Fe since the organization opened its doors in New Mexico 4 years ago. Together with the District and the Truancy Taskforce, the group has made great strides, but it’s come with unique challenges. In a city where one-fourth of all public school students, and almost one-third of high school students miss more than 10 days of school each year, Bergen says that a one-size-fits-all policy doesn’t work. The key to fixing attendance, she says, is getting personal.
“It has to be personal, not punitive. It needs to address the barriers,” says Bergen. “The most important thing is building a relationship with parents and their children.
The organization believes in creating a support system for both students and their families and working together to help students get back on track - whether that be with attendance, grades or behavior issues. Bergen says that like many problems in schools, students from single parent, low income homes are disproportionately affected. Often times they just need support.
The group has seen everything from lack of childcare to lack of transportation act as a hindrance to a child’s attendance. They’ve helped parents get medical help for children and have arranged a van to pick up students who couldn’t take the bus. They even keep a closet of clothes at school for students who don’t have the uniform or appropriate school clothes at home.
And Communities in Schools is proving that their relationships-first approach works. One pre-through-eighth grade school saw attendance rates rise from 89.4 to 93.8 percent in one academic year, and 80 percent of students who work with Communities in Schools meet their attendance goal. There have even been instances where students have referred friends who are struggling with attendance and other academic problems.
“We want to make a place where students and families know they have a place to go,” Bergen says. “I really believe families want their students to succeed, they may just not have the resources.”
Communities in Schools is a national organization working to surround students with a community of support. Julia is the founding director of the New Mexico office. The organization is currently in Santa Fe with intentions to place staff in schools throughout the state. To find out more, visit their website or contact Julia Bergen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about District’s Mission Attendance plan by downloading the SFPS board presentation document in 2014 here