NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As all Metro Nashville Public Schools students return to virtual learning, concerns about student attendance are returning, as well.
So far this school year, 21,904 students have been absent from school at least five times. The figure makes up more than 26% of the entire MNPS student population.
Additionally, 4,801 MNPS students have been absent 20 or more times this school year.
"That number is concerning for us," Keri Randolph said. Randolph serves as MNPS's Executive Officer for Strategic Federal, State and Philanthropic Investments.
Randolph said the alarming attendance numbers are caused by a long list of issues, like students not knowing how to log on to virtual classes, younger children being confused by distanced scheduling and by students simply skipping their online classes.
Randolph said that's where the district's new "navigator" program hopes to step in.
"We are, as far as I know, the largest school district in the country to launch something like this," she said.
The program pairs students with a teacher or staff member, who will then check in on the child at least once a week. Randolph said the ideas had been in the works for a while but was accelerated by the pandemic.
Navigators can be teachers or staff members, like cafeteria workers or administrative staff, and they are paired with about six students who they have weekly conversations with. Information from those conversations can be put into a district database, alerting administrators about students in need of help.
The navigators make sure students know how to log onto their computers, have all the supplies they need and make sure they are attending class.
"Navigators have played an important role in both engaging students and also helping identify students that aren't engaging," Randolph said.
For Inglewood Elementary School art teacher Jianna Shafer, the weekly check-ins are a chance to have a personal interaction with a student, even if the classes themselves are virtual. For her students with attendance problems, she tries to find solutions.
"I ask them, 'so what's preventing you from getting to class, what can we help you with so I can make sure you're there?'" Shafer said.
School leaders said they've already noticed a difference in attendance, and said navigators are a big part of that change.
"I'm anecdotally seeing a huge increase in student attendance in their virtual classes," Inglewood Elementary School Principal Ashley Croft said.
The numbers also show an increase in attendance through the year but a small one. On Sept. 1, 10% of MNPS students were absent. On Nov. 30, the district's first day back to fully virtual learning, 8.5% of kids were not in class.
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