The White House announced Friday that it plans to tackle the problem of poor school attendance by connecting 1 million at-risk students with mentors over the next five years.
The mentorship program, part of Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, is starting in 10 cities. It aims to reach 250,000 children in grades six through nine over the next two years, and then to expand to students in grades K-12 and in additional cities.
“This is a solvable problem. We have evidence that we can attack this and figure out how to help kids come to school,” said Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University, which is overseeing the initiative in partnership with the U.S. Education Department. “By mobilizing all this person power we can make a huge difference.”
The 10 participating cities are Austin; Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Miami-Dade; New York; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I.; San Antonio; and Seattle.
The mentors will be people who work in or are somehow linked to schools, officials said, including coaches, teachers, security guards and AmeriCorps members. They will get extra training and meet with students three times each week.
Research has shown that mentors can play a powerful role in helping chronically absent students improve their attendance. Chronic absenteeism — missing more than 10 percent of the school year for any reason — is tightly linked to lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates. An estimated 5 million to 7 million students are chronically absent each year.
The White House also announced an Ad Council campaign meant to target parents of younger children, explaining the long-term academic impacts of chronic absenteeism in the early grades.