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K-12 Education

The Search For Detroit’s Absent Students

VICE News, April 2021, “The Search For Detroit’s Absent Students”

I am deeply concerned about the well-being of young people in Detroit and always have been. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified and made more visible many of the disparities that already existed in cities like ours, where poverty holds people back.  

The weight poverty places on our children is evident by the high number of youth who are chronically absent from school, missing two or more days of school per month. The current estimate of Detroit’s chronic absent rate is 65%. Nearly 2 out of 3 children are not attending school regularly enough to keep up on their studies and have a strong connection to their education, their teachers, and their in-school peers.  

Poverty traps people in the now, focusing on emergency and urgent needs. Despite showing incredible resilience, too often plans for the future are put off to put out the fires of today. A mother must keep her job to keep a roof over her family, so her teenage son stays home to care for his little sister. Its either the electricity bill or groceries this month, so logging in to online classes will have to wait. Down the street, a father uses the family car to take on an impromptu job. The neighborhood streets are not safe enough for his middle schoolers to walk to school so he drops them off with grandma and grandpa for the day. The littlest one develops a bad toothache. Dad won’t have enough money for the dentist until next week so she stays out of school until then.         

Parents and caregivers are making hard decisions. Sometimes that means trading off a child’s school day. Our kids and families need support.  

It was 2012. The community I serve identified student attendance as the most critical factor impacting Detroit kids’ ability to get ahead. Over the years, the friends and allies that surrounded me in this mission grew in number and impact. We formed the Every School Day Counts Detroit coalition to help kids engage in school every day. Knocking on doors and calling up schools, we talk to students, parents, and educators to learn what’s going on and how we as neighbors and youth-service providers can help.  

We’ve also conducted official surveys and analysis lead by Wayne State University researchers to better understand the barriers that keep Detroit kids from being present and engaged in school. While there are numerous structural factors that lead to chronic absence, we know that issues of transportation and health are key barriers that need to be overcome.  

We also know that parents need to be informed and supported to play the lead role in making sure their kids show up to school. As a city, we must work alongside parents to break down barriers and address the issues that force parents into impossible choices.  
Learn more about the importance of student attendance and what you can do to help at   

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