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New push in Tacoma helps truant students stay in school

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TACOMA, Wash. -- There's a lot of excitement on the first day of school, but as the year goes on, that wanes a bit for some students.

"We have about 23 percent of our students that are chronically absent," said Jennifer Kubista, the Director of Student Life at Tacoma Public Schools.

District officials tracked the numbers and know that only 6 out of 10 students who miss 20 days or more actually graduate.

"No I don't think you can miss a day here or there, every day is important so you can get a degree and a good job and stuff, to help the world," said CJ Kinlow, an 8th grader in the district.

It's nothing new to track attendance, but this year, the district has a whole new approach to the consequences of missing school.

"I mean if you miss a few days and you're sick that's fine, but you miss a few days and skip school, then no,” said 6th grader Ainsley Kendziora.

Once a student has missed a few days, the school will send out what's called a "nudge letter."

They worked hard on writing this letter, so that it gives the family real data and insights on changing the behavior.

Kubista said the letter shows the student’s missed days in relation to others the same class and the rest of the school and district.

“And their value in the classroom,” Kubista explained, “Because kids are missed. Other kids notice them and it changes the learning environment.”

If the student continues to miss class, an intervention team that includes a truancy officer from Pierce County meets with the family to solve any problems the family may have.

Kubista said it may be as simple as getting the student a bus pass to get to school. In other situations she said that in families where English is the second language, the parent may keep the student home to translate, so they help the family understand what happens when class is missed and work to find another solution to help out.

Bottom line, they want the family to know that they can discuss problems, no matter how sensitive and that the team will work to find a solution so that the student is not missing class.

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