Mansfield, OH (September 21, 2022) – September is Attendance Awareness Month at GOAL Digital Academy, which is a nationwide recognition of the connection between regular school attendance and academic achievement. This month recognizes the importance of mobilizing schools, partners and communities to promote regular attendance by developing tiered strategies and personalized interventions to reduce chronic absence.
Many Ohio K-12 students continue to face barriers that result in chronic absenteeism. The start of the academic year presents an opportunity for districts and schools to support the needs of their students and families in overcoming the barriers brought on by the pandemic.
At GOAL Digital Academy, some of the challenges with students include their level of poverty and lack of success in school when they first start attending. The bulk of GOAL students are facing issues in their lives that have become a barrier to their education and school is no longer viewed positively. Jill Millisor, Record Process Coordinator said one of the greatest assets at GOAL to change that perception is the Educational Advocates. “Each student is assigned an Educational Advocate when they enroll with us. Many of these staff members are former social workers or have worked in social services prior to coming to us. They attempt to help link our students to resources in our community that may be able to help with their difficulties. Many of our students suffer from food insecurities, lack of laundry services, transportation issues, etc. The advocate steps in and tries to identify the needs and tend to them as soon as we become aware, often at the point of enrollment.” She said addressing these issues is part of GOAL’s objective of “Treating the Whole Child.”
Keeping the family involved is another aspect to maintaining a student’s regular attendance. GOAL labs hold various engagement events monthly. There have been at least two events since school started on August 24th with many more to come at each lab location. Labs kicked the school year off with different activities, t-shirts and meals. BBQ was the meal feature in Delaware and Mt. Vernon with the Educational Advocates grilling for all that attended, Mansfield focused on activities to “get you moving” and pizza as the meal, and Newark had great success with tacos. The Marion lab kicked off the year with a popcorn theme and will hold a courtyard clean-up event on September 21st. The Galion lab hosts parties every Wednesday with a different theme. The GOAL Physical Education Instructor, Christion Brooks, plans fun activities to coincide with many of the lab events so that he can meet his students and get everyone more physically active..
Other activities are geared to keep students engaged and attending. The annual art show that all students are encouraged to participate in brings in the community to view the art and purchase pieces, with those proceeds going back to the students. “We have clubs that have included everything from Book Club, Art Club, Dungeons & Dragons Club,” said Millisor. “Anything to get them involved and interested in school, but we always cover the cost, dice for D&D, the books for book club, etc. Every supply needed, admission charged, often transportation when necessary. GOAL refuses to leave any student behind due to economic reasons.” She said that even includes field trips, and families are often invited to come along as well. “Each of these efforts helps with attendance. We are in it for the long game. [We work on] how to get the student engaged for the long term [and] how do we make them want to be here. We give them a safe place to experience learning, after we make sure they have food and a safe place to reside.”
When there are struggles with attendance, a plan is made to help improve attendance to try to resolve it prior to involving the courts. Truancy Officer Steve Haverdill said, “The constant communication with home visits and phone calls helps to sometimes get them back on track. We also work very well with the court system to come up with what's in the best interest for the student and to help them be as successful as possible.”
However, sometimes students still decide to leave school, but GOAL doesn’t give up. “Some of our students hit 18 and decide that school just isn't for them. It's heartbreaking, but it happens,” said Millisor. “One of the best things about GOAL is that we always take them back. We remind them that we are a graduate recovery school and we are here. They can come back. Many of them do and go on to graduate.”
Millisor said her own son, Zach, is a success story. Zach, who has autism, was entering his sophomore year when he had an anxiety attack that landed him in the ER. “After speaking with the doctors and determining he was physically ok to go home, we were told not to send him back to school the next day. That it was the trigger for the anxiety attack and we would need to address it.” Zach was attending a regular school and the large crowded spaces were too overstimulating. GOAL provided smaller class sizes, and Millisor watched Zach bloom. Zach had many opportunities at GOAL including participating in Jobs for Ohio's Graduates (JOG), College Credit Plus and the opportunity to attend his local Career Center at the same time that he attended GOAL. Zach enrolled at GOAL as a sophomore and graduated the class saluatorian. Zach was able to compete at district & state competitions through the JOG Program offered at GOAL and through the Delaware Area Career Center (DACC). Zach currently attends Columbus State Community College on a full scholarship for programming. "He is no longer afraid of school," said Millisor. “Not a single anxiety attack or signs of one after we made the change. Best decision we could have made. He's in his last year of college now, a Dean's list student, and working an internship with Liberty Mutual.”
Attendance Coordinator Stephanie Andrews said not all students come to GOAL because they are struggling with academics, but more often they are struggling with life. “When your plate is full, sometimes it is hard to stay on top of things. GOAL staff tries to help our students manage these challenges while keeping attendance present in everyday conversations and building lasting relationships with our students.”