Stay in the Game

Working Together to Increase Student Attendance and Engagement

Attendance Matters

Today, many families struggle getting students to school or getting students to engage in remote education opportunities consistently. For instance, during the 2018-2019 school year, 16.7 percent (more than 277,000) of Ohio’s K-12 students—many of whom are among our most vulnerable—missed 10 percent of the school year (18 days or more) and were chronically absent. This is too much missed learning and missed opportunity. Students who miss school or do not log in and fully participate in remote education opportunities are especially susceptible to becoming chronically absent and falling behind in school. Chronic absence, especially in the early grades, can signal future high-risk patterns such as students not being on track for reading proficiently by the end of third grade, students failing courses in middle school and high schoolers not graduating.

To help our families, schools and community partners tackle this problem, a team of unique partners—the Cleveland Browns FoundationOhio Department of Education and Harvard University’s Proving Ground— has joined forces at the state level to launch the Stay in the Game! Network. The Network’s singular aim: student success, which begins with engaged learners who attend school every day, if possible, and fully participate and engage in remote education.

Network Goal and Guiding Principles

The goal of the Stay in the Game! Network is to increase student attendance and engagement at the state level and locally in partner districts and schools. The equation is simple: The more students attend school or fully engage in remote education experiences, the more prepared they are for success beyond school.

The Network will accomplish its goal by working with school districts and partners to prioritize attendance and engagement and build capacity to address chronic absenteeism through a peer-to-peer learning and action network. All Ohio school districts are invited to join the Network at no cost. Network members will receive access to attendance-related supports, tools and campaign materials.

An identified set of school districts in the Network will receive additional supports and resources to:

  • Launch comprehensive community campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of school attendance and engagement.
  • Use data to target specific, attendance-related intervention efforts for maximum impact.
  • Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of specific, attendance-related interventions to determine impact and success.
  • Implement and refine attendance-related solutions across these school districts.

All learnings gleaned from these improvement efforts will be shared broadly across the Network, benefitting all schools and districts that are members.

The Network, including its three founding partners, collaborators and local-level members, is driven by the following guiding principles:

  1. Public awareness is foundational. That’s why state-level partners and local-level members commit to raising public awareness and engaging community members on the importance of consistent school attendance and engagement.
  2. Data drives decisions. The Network supports districts and schools to use data to better understand successes and opportunities, identify solutions and continuously improve.
  3. Family and student engagement matters. Families and students hold the keys to unlocking the right local solutions; they should be engaged every step of the way.
  4. District, school, teacher and staff input is essential.Each education partner has unique insight, and each should be involved in developing and implementing the solutions. The Network’s state-level partners are committed to supporting Network partners.
  5. Community partnerships amplify the work.Strategic partnerships strengthen local efforts by building awareness, providing access to supports and resources, and removing deep-seated barriers to student attendance

Foundational Actions for Gauging Attendance in Remote Learning

To help schools and districts gauge attendance in a remote education setting, the Ohio Department of Education issued Attendance Considerations for Remote Learning Plans. In light of the pandemic, barriers to attendance might look different during the 2020-2021 school year and could be more significant for some students than in the past. Many schools and districts are beginning the school year with remote education options. The Stay in the Game! Network, along with its partners, have identified the following foundational actions for gauging attendance in a remote education setting:

  1. Maintain contact information for students and families and build strong relationships that can endure time and distance.
    1. Student and parent contact information. First and foremost, maintain regularly updated contact information for students and parents. This can be a first step in preventing students—especially the state’s most vulnerable—from falling through the cracks.
    2. Digital access. Use outreach opportunities to learn more about the student’s and/or family’s digital access, including internet connectivity and technology devices. Successful digital remote learning experiences require consistent access to the internet and technology devices.
    3. Engage and build long-term trust. Continue to establish meaningful communication that connects students, families, educators and, in some cases, other caring adults from the community. This builds trust and enables collaboration that empowers families and communities to support student attendance. Parent and family engagement can include creating connections to community supports that meet the needs of the whole child, training on remote learning platforms and other technology, and communicating clearly district and school attendance expectations.
    1. Students and families benefit from relationships with teachers, school staff, coaches and mentors. These caring adults play vital roles in communicating with families and often know how best to stay in touch as they are the individuals students see most often.
  1. Pay attention to health and safety first. The focus on consistent student attendance, including exposure and engagement in learning, should be balanced with a priority on the health and safety of students, families and educators.
  2. Emphasize student presence and engagement. The keys to ensuring students are present, engaged and supported in learning include maintaining frequent contact with students and families, connecting students to appropriate resources, encouraging student participation and offering enriching, interesting and engaging learning opportunities.
  3. Use data to drive decisions. Leverage use of short- and long-term data to understand successes and opportunities, support diverse learning styles, identify solutions and drive continuous improvement. As part of this work, districts and schools are encouraged to consistently collect, report and pay attention to student attendance data.
  4. Leverage community partnerships that address the whole system. Collaborate with strategic community partners to strengthen efforts to support attendance, exposure and engagement in learning. Each education partner has unique insight that can help inform direction. This is especially the case since community partners support mental health and well-being initiatives.
  5. Use a multi-tiered system to support the whole child. It is crucial to support the needs of the whole child by using a multi-tiered system of support to remove barriers that prevent students from participating and engaging in learning, mitigate negative learning experiences, address lack of engagement and misconceptions and provide needed social-emotional supports.

Partners and Collaborators Committed to Local Success

The Network benefits from the commitment, assets and expertise of its partners

The power of community engagement and role models

The Cleveland Browns Foundation prioritized student attendance in 2015 when it developed a partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. At that time, the district faced a chronic absence rate of 35 percent. Taking action, Cleveland Metropolitan Schools launched an attendance campaign known as Get 2 School. You Can Make It! The community-wide effort featured billboards, yard signs, school posters, parent engagement coffees and attendance celebrations. As a signature partner, the Cleveland Browns supported the campaign by providing student incentives throughout the year and incorporated Browns players by having them convey the importance of attendance through recorded phone calls, videos and school visits. In an effort to remove attendance-related barriers, the foundation also supported a local clothing program, providing students facing economic hardship greater access to uniforms and basic clothing packages. The campaign helped Cleveland Metropolitan Schools cut chronic absenteeism to 30 percent in the 2017-2018 school year. This effective local partnership inspired the creation of the statewide Stay in the Game! Network. 

In response to the pandemic, the Cleveland Browns Foundation, its corporate partners and the Browns players provided essential services and supports to students, schools districts, and communities throughout Ohio. The Foundation and its corporate partners, helped make remote education more accessible, with a special focus on Ohio’s most vulnerable students, by producing a series of resources to support students and families. Some of the resources include educational kits, free Wi-Fi and meals, hygiene products, player reading activities and motivational messages to preK-12 grade students.

The power of connectivity and coherence

The Ohio Department of Education is on a mission to prepare each child by ensuring equity and supporting quality schools through partnerships that maximize strengths to achieve collective impact. The Stay in the Game! Network represents one such partnership. Taken together, equitypartnerships and quality schools form the three core principles identified in Each Child, Our Future, Ohio’s five-year strategic plan for education. The plan trumpets a shared vision for student success: In Ohio, each child is challenged to discover and learn, prepared to pursue a fulfilling post-high school path and empowered to become a resilient, lifelong learner who contributes to society. This vision will only become a reality if Ohio’s students are active and engaged learners, and active and engaged learning starts with regular school attendance.

The power of evidence and continuous improvement

Proving Ground, an initiative of Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, works with states and school districts to help identify and test solutions to specific challenges, including chronic absenteeism. The initiative supports continuous improvement through data analysis, strategic advice, hands-on assistance and peer networking opportunities. Proving Ground’s iterative improvement cycle includes deeply understanding the challenge, identifying potential solutions, testing those solutions, examining findings and determining next steps. The Stay in the Game! Network will apply this improvement cycle to its work. Proving Ground currently works with more than 20 school districts in Ohio.

Advisory Board Members

The Stay in the Game! Network also is fortunate to benefit from the expertise and thought partnership of multiple state and national collaborators who offer important perspectives and solutions. Those state and national collaborators include:

  • Ohio Governor Mike DeWine: Governor DeWine is committed to supporting the whole child and has prioritized integrated, wraparound services essential to meeting the needs of the whole child. Immediately following his swearing in ceremony in January 2019, the governor issued an executive order creating the Governor’s Children’s Initiative. The Governor’s Children’s Initiative seeks to elevate the importance of children’s programming and drive improvements and coordination across state programs that serve children. The governor’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 includes support for integrated, wraparound services for students.
  • Ohio Department of Job and Family Services: The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services provides families and caregivers with important supports that can help alleviate chronic absenteeism in certain situations. Its supports include child care, early learning assistance, foster care, adoption services, child protective services, nutrition and healthcare. When necessary, communities, families and caregivers can access these resources to help navigate unforeseen challenges in life, which can negatively affect students and their school attendance.
  • Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services: The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is focused on advancing effective mental health, prevention, treatment and trauma-informed care initiatives. The agency works with community coalitions and county behavioral health partners to serve families and students in need. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is a strategic partner to the Ohio Department of Education and schools and districts when it comes to increasing student attendance.
  • Supreme Court of Ohio: The Supreme Court of Ohio developed the School Attendance Toolkit in 2018 to provide schools and courts with a guide for designing and implementing programs to help students be on time and get to school every day. The courts are key local partners in promoting the importance of attendance and working with schools and families to identify and implement positive approaches to increasing regular student attendance in school. The Supreme Court has been working closely with the Ohio Department of Education to launch Here! Attend + Learn = Success, an app that helps students and families monitor daily attendance.
  • Attendance Works: Attendance Works is a national nonprofit currently working in multiple school districts and states, and in collaboration with 89 national and state organizations, to advance student success and help close equity gaps by reducing chronic absence. The project was launched in 2010 to call national attention to chronic absenteeism-which includes all absences, excused, unexcused and suspensions-and differentiate it from truancy. Over the past seven years, Attendance Works has found that chronic absence can be significantly reduced when schools, families and community partners work together to monitor data to identify attendance barriers and target resources and promote strong attendance with a positive, problem-solving approach.
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