Grant to help fight high absentee rates in Buffalo schools

Apr 18, 2014

Chronic absenteeism continues to be a major issue in the Buffalo Public School District. But a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will to go directly toward targeting the problem. 

As part of our Focus on Education reporting, WBFO's Eileen Buckley learns more about a three-year project creating opportunities to connect schools, communities and families for school success.

Inside a Buffalo classroom.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"It is where people can really get together. We're talking all stakeholders -- organizations who have already been working on this issue and to bring the community involved to and this is a problem that affects all of us," said Brian Trzeciak, organizer with Citizen Action in Buffalo.  The Kellogg grant will be provided to The Public Policy and Education Fund -- affiliated with Citizen Action.

40-percent of all Buffalo Public school students are chronically absent that means they are absent more than 10-percent of the school year.

The grant will allow for the creation of the Present Student Future Leader project in Buffalo.  Designed to help reduce absenteeism. 

"Going door to door, talking street by street, going to community meetings, block clubs and engaging parents directly, and asking what are the obstacles that you are running into," said Trzeciak. "And build relationships so we bring parents to these tables."

Buffalo parent Angelica Rivera has two twin boys in Pre-Kindergarten at School 54.

"Now days, unfortunately, the schools, they have to treat the whole child and treat every aspect of a child's life", said Rivera.

One of the obstacles Rivera often struggles with in getting her children to school is a health issue. One of her son's is asthmatic. But she notes that transportation and parents trying to get to work on-time are also contributors to absenteeism at schools.

"And I have to be at work by 8:30, trying to find somebody to be able to get them to school. Lucky I was able to talk to my job and make it work, but some parents don't have that flexibility, so that is just some of the problems parents are facing," said Rivera.

The project will also help prepare young children for school and address racial inequities in education. Buffalo is among 30-grant recipients across the United States.  The project will help to define shared responsibility between families, schools and communities for student learning and achievement. 

A 2013- study in New York City found that students missing at least 20-days of the school year had lower grades and were more likely to drop out than those with better attendance records.  

"It will be good, especially to find out where more of some of the problems are so we can come up with a solution," said Rivera.