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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: Diplomas Now

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March 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Want better students? Get real about life outside the classroom

Young adults affiliated with Diplomas Now work in designated middle schools to encourage better attendance and tutor students. At Aki Kurose Middle School in South Seattle, City Year staffers Margo Kelly, left, Anna Witte and Ti'esh Harper talk with seventh-grader Jade Bland at the attendance window. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

Young adults affiliated with Diplomas Now work in designated middle schools to encourage better attendance and tutor students. At Aki Kurose Middle School in South Seattle, City Year staffers Margo Kelly, left, Anna Witte and Ti’esh Harper talk with seventh-grader Jade Bland at the attendance window. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

The din surrounding education reform often fails to recognize forces that significantly affect student achievement, but happen outside the classroom. You can strengthen teacher quality, overhaul curricula or throw open the doors to school choice, yet research shows that if kids are frightened, hungry or depressed, they cannot learn as well.

These are austere times, so understanding that common-sense reality is not enough. Legislators want data to justify any funding decision. Into the breach wades Child Trends, a non-partisan nonprofit that for 30 years has been evaluating research on what works for kids.

Last week, the Bethesda, Md., -based think tank released a report measuring the effects of so-called “integrated student supports” — the services that link students to mental health counseling, tutoring, food banks and the like. Such programs are widespread, serving more than 1.5 million young people in nearly 3,000 schools across the country.

The largest, Communities in Schools, operates in more than 2,000 buildings, including Seattle’s.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: attendance, Child Trends, Diplomas Now

November 21, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Today’s feature: Attendance counts

At Aki Kurose Middle School in South Seattle, City Year staffers Margo Kelly, left, Anna Witte and Ti'esh Harper talk with seventh-grader Jade Bland at the attendance window one recent morning. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

At Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle, City Year staffers Margo Kelly, left, Anna Witte and Ti’esh Harper talk with seventh-grader Jade Bland at the attendance window one recent morning. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

From today’s front-page story by Claudia Rowe:

The finding was hard to believe, but year after year and in state after state, the numbers kept bearing it out: Sixth-graders who missed 20 days of class had, at best, a 20 percent chance of graduating from high school on time.

This was a bombshell for researcher Bob Balfanz, who’d spent most of his career trying to understand the factors driving 1 million American students to drop out each year. He’d paced school hallways and sat through hundreds of hours of classroom instruction.

But in 2007, after tracking 13,000 middle-schoolers for eight years in Philadelphia, Balfanz finally isolated a red flag common to all who, years later, failed to graduate on time: A history of poor attendance.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Aki Kurose Middle School, attendance, City Year

November 20, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Video: “Near peers” drum up enthusiasm at Denny Middle School

If you’re a student at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle, a lively scene of chanting and singing welcomes you as you arrive for class each morning. The routine is just the beginning of the many duties that the school’s City Year corps members perform during the day. Denny is one of two schools…

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Comments | More in Video | Topics: attendance, City Year, Denny International Middle School

November 20, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Guest: Communities should work together to keep kids in class

Robert Balfanz

Robert Balfanz

Nationwide, 5 million to 7.5 million students are chronically absent each year. In Seattle, this amounts to missing at least 18 days — or about a month’s worth of school.

All too often, no one notices or even cares if these kids don’t show up.

Our research at Johns Hopkins University shows that chronic absence is a strong predictor of who will eventually drop out of school. And the problem starts early. One study estimated that one in 10 of the nation’s kindergarten and first-grade students were chronically absent.

These early absences can leave children lagging in basic reading and math skills and can establish an entrenched pattern of chronic absenteeism as students move into middle and high school. Chronically absent students also are more likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system.

The good news is that mayors, school districts and communities have a relatively low-cost way to raise academic achievement, increase graduation rates, reduce juvenile justice costs and build better pathways out of poverty: that is, to work together to get their students to attend school every day.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: absenteeism, attendance, Bob Balfanz

November 20, 2013 at 5:20 PM

Five questions with Denny Middle School’s City Year mentors

James Dixon and Becka Gross are two of the red-vested City Year mentors who work at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle. Here, the two AmeriCorps members, featured in Thursday’s story about the importance of attendance, answer questions from reporter Claudia Rowe about their work at Denny and their own middle-school experiences.

City Year mentor James Dixon, right, helps eighth-grader Jonathan Barajas with a math equation during a recent class at Denny Middle School. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

City Year mentor James Dixon, right, helps eighth-grader Jonathan Barajas with a math equation during a recent class at Denny Middle School. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

Name: James Dixon
Age: 23
Hometown: Seattle

Q: You attended middle school at Denny. What was that like?

Dixon: My middle school experience was a difficult one. I came to Denny not knowing anyone, and the school was vastly different than it is now. There were fights very often, and little to no structure in the school.

QWhat surprises you about working with middle schoolers?

Dixon: I think one thing that surprises me the most is their work ethic. I remember I was not a very motivated student in eighth grade. I often did not pay attention in class. These students do not give up. Even if they do not understand, they stay after school and come in at lunch to succeed.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: City Year, Diplomas Now, mentoring