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Lost Days: Inside one rural California district’s effort to combat chronic absenteeism

Lost Days: Inside one rural California district’s effort to combat chronic absenteeism

It’s Dena Kapsalis’ job to struggle persistent absenteeism in Paradise Unified, a faculty district in Northern California’s rural Butte County. And she or he does whatever it takes.

She’s driven her minivan along the hike-and-bike trail behind Paradise Excessive Faculty in the hunt for homeless students who have been recognized to congregate there.

Rural California: An Schooling Divide

Might 30: Part 1: Lost days: Poverty, isolation drive continual absenteeism in California’s rural faculty districts
Might 31: Half 2: Misplaced Days: Inside one rural California district’s effort to combat continual absenteeism

Produced by EdSource: David Washburn, reporter; Julie Leopo, photographer; Jennifer Molina, videographer; Yuxuan Xie, knowledge visualization specialist; Daniel J. Willis, knowledge analyst; Justin Allen, net designer; Andrew Reed, social media; Rose Ciotta, undertaking editor; Denise Zapata, co-editor.

There was the time a scholar of hers was going to skip faculty as a result of he had spent the night time at his girlfriend’s home and didn’t have clear garments. So, she picked him up, drove him to his house in Stirling City — a mountain group within the far reaches of the district — and waited outdoors while he showered and altered.

“She’s well-known for driving as much as Stirling Metropolis and knocking on doors,” stated Melissa Crick, a Paradise Unified Faculty Board member. “She’ll ask them: ‘Why are you not at college at the moment? What do you want? How can I assist?’”

These questions are on the core of the mindset change that Kapsalis and others say is needed for educators to have any probability at decreasing excessive charges of continual absenteeism, which happens in faculties in all places however is particularly prevalent in rural areas.

It means adopting what they call a “trauma-informed strategy” to working with students that puts their conduct and efficiency within the context of their house lives and the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s one thing that Paradise Unified has embraced in recent times.

Misplaced Days: A journey into continual absenteeism in rural Butte County, California

View EdSource’s video story on how isolation and poverty drive high rates of continual absenteeism in rural Butte County, California.

Among the 98 districts in California with persistent absenteeism charges above 20 %, which the California Department of Schooling classifies as “very excessive,” 84 have been in rural areas, an EdSource analysis of state knowledge discovered. And the 10 districts statewide with the very best rates, ranging from 43 % to 79 %, have been all rural.

Persistent absenteeism is a big contributor to poor educational efficiency, excessive dropout charges and low ranges of school readiness, based on a large physique of research. Chronically absent college students are also extra more likely to interact in high-risk scholar behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse and legal exercise.

Kapsalis is among many educators and youth advocates who say faculty insurance policies that took a punitive strategy to scholar discipline and truancy exacerbated the issue.

“I actually really feel that educationally we’ve blood on our palms as administrators, as educators, from the failed zero-tolerance policies of the previous,” Kapsalis stated in a current interview. “There was no accountability for a way we seemed that [students] weren’t needed.”

Dena Kapsalis is the director of scholar providers for the Paradise Unified Faculty District. She is a pacesetter of a cadre of educators and youth advocates preventing continual absenteeism in Butte County.

Kapsalis’ official title is director of scholar providers. This implies she is in command of particular schooling and providers for homeless and foster youth, suspension and expulsion policy and is the district’s chief attendance officer.

She’s additionally the principal of Honey Run Academy, Paradise Unified’s group day faculty for college kids who’ve been expelled from other district faculties or, for other reasons, are habitually absent and failing within the common faculty surroundings.

From these numerous positions, Kapsalis has led an unofficial cadre of faculty board members, academics, nurses, psychologists, bus drivers and nonprofit leaders in Paradise Unified and round Butte County who’re working to create faculty environments which are extra welcoming to students and better outfitted to deal with the trauma a few of them have experienced.

‘I assume I’m staying residence immediately’

Their goal is to do a better job reaching college students like 18-year-old Britaney Blair and her cousins and brothers in Stirling City. Remoted by geography and poverty, getting to high school — and then staying there — has all the time been a wrestle for the household.

“If one thing is dangerous at residence, it’s going to be arduous to go to high school,” Britaney stated in a current interview. “You possibly can’t even take into consideration that. You possibly can’t think about your stability.”

Britaney’s childhood has been something however secure. She spent her early years in Stirling Metropolis however moved together with her younger brother Christian to San Luis Obispo County in 2007 to reside with their father. They got here again in 2014 when Britaney was within the 7th grade.

In 2015, her mom severely injured her back in a automotive accident and was principally bedridden for more than a yr. This left Britaney, then in her early teenagers, with the duty for taking good care of each her mom and her youngest brother, Kaden.

“I was making meals for him and my mom so much too. That was actually exhausting,” Britaney stated. “In the morning, I’d wake up and get him woken up, get him dressed, get him food, get him prepared for college. Loads of occasions I’d get him to the bus however I’d still not be prepared.”

On days when she missed the bus, Britaney would run from home to deal with on her road asking if anyone was headed into town and will give her a experience to high school. “If it didn’t work out, I’d simply be like alright I assume I’m staying residence as we speak,” Britaney stated.

Britaney’s troubles at house had a direct influence on her faculty attendance. She missed 35 days in the course of the 2014-15 faculty yr and 38 days throughout 2015-16, her attendance data present.

Kapsalis says Britaney’s story exhibits why it is essential for educators to get the complete picture of why a scholar is lacking faculty. “We’ve got to know how youngsters are being pulled away from faculty as a result of issues at residence, and in addition how we’re pushing them out,” Kapsalis stated.

More accountability

In the 2016-17 faculty yr, after years of lobbying by educators and youth advocates, the California Division of Schooling began requiring districts to report their charges of persistent absenteeism, which includes excused absences, unexcused absences and missed days on account of suspensions.

California classifies any continual absenteeism price above 10 % as “excessive.” The statewide common was 11 % in 2017-18, and Paradise Unified’s was 18 %, based on state knowledge. It’s certain to go a lot greater through the present faculty yr because of the Camp Hearth, which all but destroyed the city of Paradise final fall.

Almost 80 % of Paradise Unified’s college students lost their houses in the hearth and enrollment is down by a few third, to beneath 3,000. The hearth struck within the midst of a much larger, slow-motion tragedy that has devastated Butte County and lots of other rural regions of the state and nation in current many years.

Among counties, Butte leads the state in stories of what are generally known as “antagonistic childhood experiences,” which may embrace family trauma starting from neglect and physical and/or sexual abuse to parental drug habit, incarceration or dying.

Mapping continual absenteeism

View EdSource’s interactive map of continual absenteeism rates to see how they’re concentrated in rural California.

“It isn’t that the previous means of doing things was malicious,” stated Matt Reddam, a therapist specializing in childhood trauma who works with faculties throughout Butte County. Rural faculty officers “just weren’t ready for the quantity of problem that came with methamphetamines, the opiate disaster and every part else…so, faculties at the moment are in this confused place. They know they’ve an issue however they’re nonetheless questioning ‘What can we do?’”

Understanding the challenges dealing with rural districts requires information of their geographies. Paradise Unified is giant, greater than 70 square miles and spans what locals name the county’s “lower ridge,” which includes the town of Paradise, to the “higher ridge.” The farther up the ridge a group is, the more isolated and poorer it’s more likely to be.

Stirling Metropolis is on the prime of the ridge and the final cease on the bus route. Streets with names like “Quartz,” “Diamond” and “Oak” hint at its former glory as a hub of the area’s mining and timber industries via a lot of the 20th century.

At the moment, Stirling City is in a state of decay. It not has any companies — not even a nook market — and is house to a diminishing number of working-age individuals. Of the town’s 201 residents, greater than 80 % are both underneath 20 or 65 and over, in accordance with the newest Census estimates.

It’s widespread for Stirling Metropolis youngsters to finish up with Kapsalis at Honey Run Academy. Both Britaney and Christian hung out there. Their cousin, Frankie Bounds, was one among Kapsalis’ more memorable college students.

By his personal admission, making it to high school was not a excessive precedence of Bounds.’ And when he did go, he typically ended up in hassle, often because of marijuana possession, preventing, or each, he stated.

“I obtained suspended and expelled from just about each faculty up there,” Bounds, now 22, stated during a current telephone interview from the Sierra Conservation Middle, a prison in Jamestown, Calif., the place he is serving an 11-year sentence for tried murder.

Franklin Bounds pictured on the Sierra Conservation Middle, a prison in Jamestown, Calif., where he’s serving an 11-year sentence. He grew up in Stirling City and was a chronically absent scholar earlier than dropping out within the 11th grade.

“If I confirmed up smelling like weed, I might get despatched to the office, searched and plenty of occasions sent house. Typically even if I wasn’t smoking, they’d nonetheless droop me,” he stated. “The angle was do things our means or we’re going to suspend you and kick you out.”

However it was clear from his first day at Honey Run in late 2010 that Kapsalis was totally different.

“I obtained in hassle with a instructor and sent to the workplace,” he stated. “The principal woman introduced herself. She stated, ‘I’m Dena and I do know all about you.’ I used to be ready for her to get on my ass just like the others, however she didn’t — this woman was killing me with kindness.”

Britaney has an analogous story during that time interval. In center faculty, she was once suspended for every week after getting right into a struggle.

“She was instantly right there placing me over her shoulder,” Britaney stated of Kapsalis. “The varsity didn’t attempt to find out what was mistaken however Dena sat down and talked to me about what was really happening…she all the time jogs my memory that faculty matters and that is my approach out.”

Spreading a trauma-informed strategy

By that time, Kapsalis had already absorbed the concepts of trauma-informed schooling. And she or he was not solely implementing it at Honey Run, however beginning to unfold word throughout the district. She would ultimately arrange trainings for directors, academics, bus drivers and even cafeteria staff.

“We’ve labored on making a trauma–sensitive meals service for teenagers,” Kapsalis stated. “If a child is appearing up in line, we speak about what’s the go-to response to that conduct? When was the last time they ate? It may need been the day earlier than at college.”

Ruby Hartwig was a Paradise Unified bus driver when Bounds was in class and is now the district’s director of transportation. In recent times, she’s made positive that bus drivers are educated in options to traditional discipline.

“You just have to offer them a chance to let you already know what’s happening of their lives,” Hartwig stated. “In the event that they’re having a nasty day, there’s a purpose…I would like them to know that I’m a protected place and my bus is a protected setting.”

Kapsalis has additionally revamped Paradise Unified’s Faculty Attendance Evaluation Board, commonly referred to as a SARB. The boards are arrange in districts throughout the state to assist tackle truancy. Historically, they’ve been made up of officers from the district, the county workplace of schooling and regulation enforcement.

Like many others, Kapsalis sees the normal attendance board strategy as intimidating and unwelcoming to families, putting them on the defensive somewhat than addressing their wants. So she recruited social staff, healthcare professionals and youth advocates to serve on her board.

Among them was Hoppie Campos, a director of the Boys & Women Club that serves Butte County. Campos stated Kapsalis’ innovation was to orient the board to concentrate on the various needs of each scholar so it becomes clear to everybody that their poor faculty attendance is just a byproduct of larger points.

“Not each child goes to fit into the normal method of teaching,” Campos stated. “What I feel makes our SARB board actually unique is how we discover alternative ways to succeed in a kid or discover an academic experience that might fit that kid.”

Crick, the Paradise Unified faculty board member, lived in Stirling City in the course of the 2000s and through the years has been a surrogate mother to Britaney, Frankie and Christian.

She also received involved within the district politically as a dad or mum preventing the closures and consolidations of faculties within the district. She’s vocal about her feelings that the problems plaguing rural faculties have been largely ignored by officers in Sacramento and believes that extra assets must be directed toward trauma-informed schooling.

Crick has witnessed the turmoil of Bounds’ life first-hand. She saw him crumble emotionally and drop out of faculty after his father, who struggled with drug habit, was killed during a struggle with another Stirling Metropolis resident. And she or he watched his personal methamphetamine habit and felony conduct, which culminated with him stabbing a person.

Misplaced Days, Half One: Poverty, isolation drive students away from faculty in California’s rural districts

Read half one in every of EdSource’s particular report on persistent absenteeism in rural California.

Crick on no account feels that the punishments Bounds acquired at college have been instantly associated to the action that put him in jail. But she does ponder whether he might have been helped by trauma-informed approaches that Kapsalis and others have instilled within the district since he dropped out.

She feels they’ve helped Christian, who’s dealing with his own demons and is open about his common marijuana use.

“I feel there was a real tradition change with the best way they relate to the students,” Crick stated. “They have been lots more durable on Frankie, kicking him out if he smelled like he’d been smoking. With Christian, they’re extra more likely to welcome him as long as he comes to high school.”

Britaney, in the meantime, is about to graduate in June and looks like she is on the right track.

“There are a variety of issues that go on in our household, but I seem to prevail,” she stated. “My thing is to observe and study and comply with the appropriate path till I see otherwise.”

Kapsalis expects to be long retired by the point the change she envisions absolutely manifests itself. However she plans to maintain pushing, particularly for college kids and households to have a much bigger say in district policies towards self-discipline and absenteeism.

“Our subsequent work is to ensure college students have a voice,” she stated. “And that we reach out to all types of various families to deliver them together to speak about the future of Paradise.”

Part One, revealed Might 30: Lost days: Poverty, isolation drive students away from faculty in California’s rural districts

The USC Middle for Health Journalism’s Knowledge Fellowship, The California Endowment and the Schooling Writers Association Reporting Fellowship offered funding and help for this venture.


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