More than 40% of Peoria Public School students were chronically absent in 2021
By Leslie Renken, Journal Star,2022-09-01
Editor's note: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of FamilyCore in multiple references.
PEORIA – Chronic absenteeism in Peoria Public Schools rose in 2021.
The Illinois State Board of Education deems a chronically absent child as one who misses 10% percent (18 days) or more of school days per year either with or without a valid excuse. In Peoria Public Schools, the number of chronically absent children rose to 43.4% in 2021. That’s more than twice the average, 22.8%, for districts throughout the state, according to data provided the ISBE’s Illinois Report Card.
In East Peoria public schools, 14% of students at the high school and 26% of students at the elementary and junior high schools were chronically absent in 2021. In Pekin, 46% of high school students and 30% of the K-8 students in District 108 were chronically absent. In Morton, 16% of students were chronically absent, and in Dunlap only 17% were chronically absent, according to state data.
While ISBE acknowledged in their report that the pandemic had an impact on absenteeism, chronic absenteeism has long been an issue in Peoria Public Schools. In 2019, 38.6% of students where chronically absent vs. the state average of 17.5%, and in 2018, 34% of PPS students were chronically absent, while the state average was 16.8%.
Experts point to poverty as being a driver behind high levels of absenteeism. The majority of families in Peoria Schools live in poverty – 70%, according to ISBE.
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Education is a hard sell for families in survival mode
“Any time you are dealing with poverty, there are a multitude of things you are stirring into the mix,” said Stanton Hangen, who has worked for many years to combat absenteeism in PPS. “We certainly have poverty, then we have a high mobility rate, and we have a high percentage of families doubled up and homeless.”
High mobility means that families move frequently. The mobility rate for families in Peoria schools was 29% in 2021, compared to just 7% in both the Morton and Dunlap school districts for the same period of time, according to state data.
Hangen is an employee of FamilyCore, a non-profit agency contracted by PPS to provide counseling and support for struggling families in the district. When a child starts missing a lot of school, Hangen and his co-workers pay the family a visit. When remote learning took effect during the pandemic shutdown, they visited families struggling to get set up with technology like laptops and internet – and continued those visits when in-person classes resumed, because a lot of students did not return to class.
“We went to the homes to figure out what was going on, and we found the parents had gotten used to their kids working, and helping provide for the home. They weren't in a situation where they could give that up that quick," he said.
The truth is, education can be a hard sell for families in survival mode, Hangen said.
“Survival mode is pretty basic. It's not about education,” he said.
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Employment opportunities abound
With a "great resignation" of workers quitting jobs since the pandemic hit, employment opportunities have been plentiful for teens. And that draw of a good paycheck immediately may be more powerful than the idea of a bigger paycheck at the end of many years of education. Kids can make pretty good money and work as many hours as they want, Hangen said.
“I had a student last year who worked 40 hours a week, third shift, came to school, and then had to watch her siblings when she got out of school,” Hangen said. “She was a good employee and she could get as many hours as she wanted.”
Employment is not the only reason why kids miss school, however. For some, it’s transportation issues or struggling with motivation, said Hangen’s boss, Ron Tyler, director of outreach for FamilyCore.
“For some families, there’s negative thinking – why try? And in some cases, there are things going on in the home... poor relationships, dysfunctional relationships, lack of role models in their lives," Tyler said.
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Anxiety is still a factor
Some families are still fearful of letting their children return to school because of fears that they will bring COVID home, said Hangen.
“This year there are still families requesting virtual learning,” he said. “We try to discourage it, because our tests showed that those kids aren’t getting as much out of it as face-to-face instruction. But we’ve had a number request for that,” Hangen said.
Anxiety also kept kids from returning to school, Tyler said. It was something FamilyCore worked hard to address during the pandemic.
“Anxiety was through the roof at that time for the kids,” Tyler said.
FamilyCore employees fighting absenteeism are based in all three high schools and, over the years, their effort have led to real results, said Tyler.
"I have literally seen Mr. Hangen's interventions, along with the team, change the numbers one to two percent a year,” Tyler said. “Not every year – some years there’s more, some less – but there have been years where it was one or two percent, and really, Mr. Hangen has led that charge at Manual High School.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: More than 40% of Peoria Public School students were chronically absent in 2021
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