How a Prescott school district reinvented student support during the pandemic year

How a Prescott school district reinvented student support during the pandemic year

Monique LaFlomme

by Monique LaFlamme, Prescott Unified School District

May 5, 2021

This year has been quite the year for education, throwing curveballs left and right. In June of last year, I came to Prescott Unified School District as their Attendance Success Coordinator through an AmeriCorps VISTA Position. The intent of the project was to help combat chronic absenteeism at the district and generate a new attendance plan that can be used at all the schools. However, what used to be common practice became useless, and we were unable to trudge forward using previous models.

With that, myself and two restorative justice volunteers from the Juvenile courts came together to deliberate solutions. We dove in head first and recruited 10 volunteers to engage in phone calling to families whose students were chronically absent. We were able to identify families who were going through unprecedented changes and connect them to school resources more quickly. We served as a liaison between families and schools, using my connections at the district office to easily connect staff to families who needed their assistance. At first, this was working just fine. We worked with leadership staff at the schools to ensure that we were giving out the right message and reminding parents about the new learning models.

This changed as the months drew on and the pandemic worsened. Schools were faced with conflicting information, changing safety protocols, and a new way of teaching: electronically. As one can imagine, attendance took a downfall, and our calling initiative was too large to handle ourselves. With the constantly changing learning models, it quickly became difficult to create new plans. We stopped what we were doing and created surveys that were sent to over 300 parents and students with the intent to learn what exactly was needed from the schools. We took every comment into consideration and tallied what challenges were being faced by the majority of families. This served as our starting point and we decided what was needed was not constant calling, but support and someone to listen.

We reinvented old practices by creating Facebook awareness posts, newsletters to district leadership staff outlining the current realities of attendance, started tracking academic progress, and so much more.

One major process we adapted was the school’s database system, PowerSchool. With my team and PUSDs PowerSchool whiz, we created new alert tiles that could be used across the district for both staff and parents. These alert tiles “pop up” whenever a student falls under one of the three chronically absent categories or when a student is failing a course. The intent is for staff to be able to get the full picture of a student right away, identifying what types of support they need and additionally, for parents to see clearly what is going on with their students and help encourage them in the right direction.

Another major action we took was to recognize the unpredictability of this year and its challenges. Some students stayed the course and were able to successfully complete the year, showing up every day despite the circumstances, while others experienced challenges. Both groups, deserving recognition for their efforts, led us to develop printed cards to be sent to these families. Altogether, we will send out 800 "postcards" to families whose students fall into either the perfect attendance or chronically absent 20%+ category. Those with perfect attendance are recognized and congratulated. Despite the year, they persevered, and we want them to feel seen and proud of their accomplishments. For those who fell chronically absent, it was important to let them know that it's okay, and we want them back next year. The message to students was to feel supported by their schools and staff in order to start fresh next year. Many students and families faced severe hardships that were out of their control, and our intention is that this group deserves to feel supported and know that we can't wait to see them next year.

All in all, it has been the year of great change and challenge. With incredible staff coming together with profound creativity and resilience, we have been able to successfully overcome one of the hardest years educators have experienced and carry on with promise. I am proud to have served out my service year alongside inspirational staff. They have already made generous strides and I know they will continue to work miracles.

Monique LaFlamme is an AmeriCorps VISTA and the attendance success coordinator for Prescott Unified School District.

Learn more about AmeriCorps, including the service program run by the ASU Lodestar Center, Public Allies Arizona.

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