A school in Hawaii is discovering that building family relationships helps deter school absence.

At Waianae Intermediate School 40 percent of all students are chronically absent.  The school is developing a partnership with family court and trying home visits to keep kids coming to class.

One of the first things that school attendance officer Ocie Kuhaulua does when a student is chronically absent is to visit the student’s home.  She visits while accompanied by a school counselor, and they speak with parents. It may be unclear what causes the absence, but at least parents are notified and involved.

Home visits are not unique to the school, nor are they a new strategy.  In recent years, Waianae Intermediate has developed the relationship building strategy with parents and students. Chronic absenteeism is defined in Hawaii as missing 15 days or more within an academic year.

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Some reasons for high absenteeism include medical issues, difficulty with transportation, and lack of access to health care. National research shows that chronic absenteeism affects children who live in poverty disproportionately. When children miss a lot of school at a young age, they are more likely to drop out of high school, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

In Hawaii, Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians, special education students, and English language learners miss the most school. 16 percent of Hawaii schools report extreme chronic absenteeism, where 30 percent or more of the students are absent for over 15 days a year.

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