Making the Grade: Combating Chronic Absenteeism

Four Boston Public Schools are using a targeted approach to keep kids in class

Jeremiah E. Burke High School, English High School, Higginson-Lewis K-8 school, and Perkins Elementary are participating in the launch of My Brother's Keeper, a new White House initiative to combat chronic absenteeism. 

"It leads to higher dropout rates, higher incidence of substance abuse or mental illness, higher incidence of incarceration," said Dr. Lindsa McIntyre, Headmaster of the Burke. 

Once underperforming, the Burke is now considered the state's most improved high school. It's a model for other schools across Boston and the nation, thanks in part to McIntyre's mission to get the community more involved. 

"We had firefighters, police officers, members of the community," said McIntyre. "It almost brought me to tears when all of these gentlemen came in with their sleeves rolled up." 

Mentoring sessions focus on developing good work habits, building relationships, and public speaking.

"I think now we're at a point where the young people are really engaged and have bought in and enjoy coming," said Shawn Brown, Executive Director of Diamond Educators Mentoring Program.

"One of the phrases that we use a lot when talking to young people and talking about young folks is that they need to know that you care before they care to know," said Cornell Mills, on the advisory committee for My Brother's Keeper in Boston. 

In its early stages, My Brother's Keeper" has increased attendance of chronically absent students at the Burke by five percent. 

"We see changes in students wanting to be in school. We see changes in their joy and excitement about being celebrated, being recognized as a student. It's amazing," McIntyre said. 

Students shared some of their own stories with NECN. 

"I wasn't coming to school at first. And then Mr. Hill pulled me aside and said hey, if you don't come to school, you're going to end up in jail or a coffin. So I started working with him a lot and then started to change," said Carlos Falcon, a freshman. "He opened my eyes." 

"I'm only doing for them what was done for me," said Greg Hill, Community Coordinator for the Burke. "And replicating the relationship I had with my mentors growing up when I was their age."

"We talked about school, outside of school, grades, drugs, sex, anything and she had an answer for everything," said junior Catiana Fernandes of her mentor, Morgan Frazier-Eley. "She made me independent."

"Don't be afraid," Jayden Green, a sophomore, wants other students to know. "It's people that actually care about you, who are actually looking to help you achieve your potential." 

Boston Public Schools' efforts in combating chronic absenteeism focuses not just on older students but kindergartners, using family mentoring programs. 

If you want to make a difference in Boston Public Schools, the team at the Burke says they're always looking for mentors.

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