NEW BRITAIN – A state initiative to address student absenteeism and disengagement due to the pandemic has been launched by Gov. Ned Lamont’s Office.
In an announcement Monday, the governor said the new state program is aimed at engaging with K-12 students who struggled with absenteeism and disengagement during the 2020-21 school year because of the covid-19 pandemic.
The initiative, known as the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program (LEAP), will be funded with $10.7 million of the state’s federal covid-19 recovery funding provided through the governor’s Education Emergency Relief fund.
Over the last year, the state has made significant progress in closing digital divides in K-12 education, said Lamont. However, the pandemic has continued to create challenges around student attendance and engagement.
“It is clear that technology and broadband are necessary, but not sufficient, to ensuring our children have the resources they need to succeed during this challenging period,” he said. “As such, Connecticut is taking another critical step forward with LEAP in keeping our promise of offering a high-quality education to all students.”
The initiative will target 15 school districts, including New Britain, through a partnership between the state Department of Education and the six state Regional Education Service Centers. Funds will go to increasing people power who will be deployed to homes to directly engage with families and students to provide support, according to the governor’s office.
New Britain Schools Superintendent Nancy Sarra said the district is happy to be a part of this initiative and they have been laying the groundwork to connect with students and families since day one of the shutdown last March.
“Unfortunately, chronic absenteeism isn’t new to New Britain. It’s something that isn’t solved yet but our whole recovery plan is all about engaging kids and inviting them back to the classroom through incentives,” she said.
Out of the roughly 10,000 students within the district, about 9,680 students are currently attending classes, which is on par with a “regular” year, according to the district. Different schools have been organizing various events to encourage students to attend classes, including March Madness competitions against each other with rewards for the winners.
A pilot program called “Level Up” was also launched at four school sites, including Lincoln Elementary, Smalley Elementary, Pulaski Middle School and Slade Middle School. The pilot program is similar to summer enrichment, where absentee students are invited to the program for a few days each week.
Each day, community providers are with the students for several hours to engage them through different activities to build them back up to return to the classroom, said Sarra, who stated that incentive programs are not just limited to the elementary and middle school level.
For New Britain High School, the district will test drive a reward system where students could receive prizes when they participate in the classroom or at school events. Prizes will include free prom tickets, yearbooks and other related items.
“We all want our students to do well,” Sarra said. “We’ve had a lot of good progress despite the pandemic, but we have to recognize that students aren’t coming to school for many reasons. Everyone has story, and it’s our job to figure out why they aren’t coming and what we can do to help them.”
Acting Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker shared a similar sentiment, stating that “improving attendance and reaching each and every one of our students require forming strategic partnerships that involve the entire community, establishing systems of support, and focusing resources on the areas of greatest need.”
“LEAP embraces this approach and builds on our ongoing work with educators, families, and community partners to ensure that all of our children are connected with their teachers and their schools,” she said.