New program will match schools with community support groups
On the first day of class on Wednesday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña walked down the broad hallways of a Morrisania high school, surveying student projects and peeking through classroom windows. She paused in front of a colorful sign that read “95%” – the school’s ideal attendance rate. “This is the goal,” Fariña said. “If kids aren’t in school, they can’t learn.”
With an average daily attendance of 78 percent, The Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies High School – or MACS, as it is called – is representative of neighboring high schools struggling with student attendance.
Chancellor Fariña argues that her new Attendance Improvement and Dropout Intervention Program will help to achieve the 95 percent goal as well as provide social, academic, physical and emotional support to students by matching participating schools with community-based organizations. MACS is one of 45 community schools where the program has been fully implemented, and the city plans to launch it at another 83 in the near future.
Fariña examined treatment rooms filled with posters about asthma and reproductive health. In addition, MACS is expanding counseling and mental health services, Principal Matthew Mazzaroppi told her.
The school also offers peer programs and mentoring for students with health issues and other problems. Such efforts “not only improve student confidence,” said Erin O’Leary, senior director of the Center for Supportive Schools, a New Jersey organization that fosters educational reform, “but also create an attachment to the school which increases attendance.”
Skylar Spencer, a 17-year-old senior peer group leader at the school, led a session with freshman students as Chancellor Fariña dropped by. New students picked up cards instructing them to fist bump their neighbors or balance on one leg.
Games are an integral part of engaging new students, but Spencer also offers advice on homework and teachers. When asked about attendance, Spencer agreed that students should make it to school. She took it a step further. “You can’t just show up physically,” she said. “You have to be present.”