An unexpected way to fight chronic absenteeism

Illustration by Michael Keany/AI

The Hechinger Report's recent article, authored by Javeria Salman, explores the innovative approach Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina has adopted to combat chronic absenteeism through a telemedicine program. Initiated in the fall of 2021 at Bessemer Elementary School, this program allows students to consult with pediatricians or family medicine providers via computer, receive treatment, and potentially return to class the same day. This initiative was introduced in response to the spike in absenteeism exacerbated by the pandemic, particularly among students from high-poverty Title I schools where access to healthcare is often limited.

The telemedicine program, which has expanded to 15 Title I schools within the district, has shown promising results in reducing chronic absenteeism rates. For instance, Bessemer Elementary School witnessed a decrease in its chronic absenteeism rate from 49% in the 2021-2022 school year to 37% in the following year. Superintendent Whitney Oakley emphasized the importance of student attendance for effective education and highlighted how the program also alleviates the burden on parents who might otherwise need to miss work to care for a sick child.

The program addresses not only physical health needs but also mental health, with plans to include teletherapy services. This expansion reflects a growing recognition of the role of emotional well-being in student attendance and performance. The success of the telemedicine clinics has been supported by partnerships with local governments, healthcare providers, and nonprofits, ensuring that uninsured families can also access the necessary care.

Early research supports the effectiveness of school-based telemedicine in improving attendance. A study of three rural districts in North Carolina found that such clinics reduced absenteeism by 29% and the number of days absent by 10%. Beyond healthcare, these initiatives offer a model for school-community partnerships that can address broader determinants of educational success.

The program's implementation faced challenges, particularly in gaining parental consent, which was overcome through targeted communication efforts, especially with non-English speaking families. The significant impact of the program is illustrated by the fact that, in its pilot year, 240 out of 300 students who visited the clinic were able to return to class the same day.

This telemedicine initiative by Guilford County Public Schools exemplifies how integrating healthcare services within the educational setting can address absenteeism and support student health and well-being, potentially serving as a model for other districts facing similar challenges.

Source: The Hechinger Report


Prepared with the assistance of AI software

OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (4) [Large language model].

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