SCCPSS makes more home visits as issues of truancy continue to rise

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Over the course of the pandemic, school systems locally and across the state are struggling to keep track of students.

Getting students to show up in the era of virtual learning is an uphill battle, and officials fear more kids are falling through the cracks.

“I tell you, we’ve made more home visits this year than we have in past years,” said Dr. Quentina Miller-Fields, director of Student Affairs for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS).

Miller-Fields says between the school systems 22 social workers, they’ve made 2,000 home visits since August.

“We are making that happen,” she said.

Miller-Fields says they’re all accounted for, but a lot of students aren’t showing up to school or logging onto their online classes.

“Those students who are not coming to school, or for those who are not logging in, we are knocking on the doors,” she said.

Miller-Fields says social workers are trying to be compassionate while also following the compulsory law of the state. She says COVID-19 has brought on a lot of extenuating circumstances for families.

“Their job is to serve as a liaison between the school and those families,” she said, “any barriers that the parents may be experience or the students, they work to resolve those barriers so our children can be in school.”

Since the pandemic, educators across the state are seeing students lose focus, fall behind and struggle to stay engaged.

In the age of Zoom learning, the issue has only gotten worse.

“At first they may have been on camera, and now they’re like, ‘You know what? I am not going to be on camera,’ or ‘I am not going to come to class today,'” said Byron Bowers, president of the Chatham County Association of Educators.

“So, as I said, it’s the small things that we are dealing with, but they are manifesting in a big way,” he added.

Data from the Georgia Department of Education shows 37,612 fewer children enrolled in school this year compared to pre-lockdown.

This difference cannot be accounted for by population change alone when the prior year difference was less than 1,000.

SCCPSS has seen similar enrollment drop-offs. In 2019, 37,342 students were enrolled, and if you compare that 2020, it’s only about 100 student difference. Enrollment in 2021 plummeted to 35,709, nearly a 2,000 student difference.

“When you disaggregate a lot of the data, what you see and what we expect we will see when it comes to things like learning loss, is that it is disproportionately impacting African Americans, Latino, low-income populations,” said Sarah Babcock, deputy director of the Truancy Intervention Project (TIP).

Babcock says TIP primarily serves Fulton County, but they also collaborate with educators across the state.

“Our organization is currently working with volunteers to call some of the last known numbers that we have for families just to try to reach out and see if we can connect with them,” said Babcock.

Bowers says when students return in person, full-time teachers and school counselors will have their hands full.

“Come the fall, we are going to have to do a lot of re-adapting,” said Bowers.

He says he fears for students in middle and high school the most who may be unprepared come graduation.

“It’s really disheartening,” said Bowers.

School can often be a safe place for many students living in troubled homes. Babcock says it’s those students that way heaviest on her mind.

“Think about those 33,000 students who nobody has laid eyes on, except for maybe their parents or caregivers, and that is the sort of stuff that really keeps you up at night,” said Babcock.

In Chatham County, there are efforts to help students catch up. It’s called the EMBRACE Program, and so far officials say they have about 5,000 students signed up.

The deadline to sign up was on April 12, but if you’d like to learn more about the program, just visit this link.

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