School administrators across the nation have seen a lack of student engagement during Covid-19. The school structure during the pandemic has made it easier for students to disengage from school, leading to random pop-ins on Google Meets and sporadic responses to emails. This lack of engagement and focus places students at risk of dropping out of high school.
In order to prevent this, school administrators can seek out opportunities to intervene and reengage those students. Fundamentally, students want and need to feel connected and cared for. When schools uphold their responsibility to provide social and emotional support, the consistent and intentional connection with students can support engagement and prevent dropouts. Summer and early fall is a good time to implement practical interventions to help disengaged students before the issue progresses.
Visiting students’ homes during the summer is a meaningful tool for reengagement. This can be done as often as a district likes, with a specifically designated team of administrators, teachers, and support staff.
Try visiting homes every Monday during the summer. This should not be done in the style of a typical truancy home visit—show care and interest in the student’s well-being to identify and reduce barriers to their engagement. When done with care and intention, the visit shows that the school is committed to the student and welcomes them back.
This is a great opportunity to get to know the student better. Call ahead and schedule the home visit according to the student’s and family’s availability. It’s perfectly acceptable to visit in the front yard and socially distance during the pandemic.
R&R: Reengagement at Registration
Registration for the new school year is also a great time for reengagement. Use previously collected data to create a list of students who were disengaged during the previous semester or academic year. When the student arrives at the registration event, follow up with them. If your district or school does not have a formal registration process, invite families to come to the school before the school year begins. The location of where the following steps occur is flexible and can be adjusted to fit your school’s needs.
1. Hold a conference. Choose a private space for an administrator, teacher, or support staff to hold the conference. This provides an opportunity to create a relationship with the student and their parents.
2. Collect information. Provide a brief form asking questions to gather information about the reason for the student’s disengagement and identify their needs. Providing a list of possible options (e.g., family issues, mental health, employment) can be helpful. Schools can choose to address those needs as a preventive measure.
3. Provide a list of resources. The reengagement process includes sharing information with students about services that the school offers for support and school credit recovery. Social and emotional services are essential for this population of students. The list can include local agencies that partner with the district.
4. Create a check-in system. Every student benefits from having at least one supportive adult at their school. They can go to that adult throughout the school year for assistance as needed. That adult (or the school) can send ongoing motivational and encouraging emails or texts to the student. If a student can’t think of anyone on their own, the school can identify a teacher or support staff member who is available to help. The hope is that the adult and student will develop a strong rapport as they spend time checking in together.
5. Determine the student’s level of confidence. Students who lack self-efficacy need support to build their confidence and reduce self-inflicted barriers. There are plenty of self-efficacy measures available online, but simply asking students to rate their own level of confidence about whether they think that they can pass all their classes is acceptable (e.g., on a Likert scale: very confident, somewhat confident, not confident).
Accepting that some students won’t have the capacity to attend full days of school for five days per week is a realistic perspective. It may sound counterintuitive to reduce the instructional time for students who already missed so much, but some students might need to slowly transition back into the full-time school structure.
Students are unlikely to just bounce back from being disengaged for a year or two. They might feel overwhelmed by pressure to catch up with their peers. Discovering what works for the nontraditional student is key. A half-day program or another form of an abbreviated schedule might be more appropriate. Check with your state board of education in regard to seat-time and attendance policies. Some state boards issue waivers that allow students to use competency-based education in place of seat time.
If reducing the school day isn’t an option, try starting the school year earlier. Students who were disengaged can transition back to school a week or two before the rest of the student body. The transition time could focus on executing functioning skills and social and emotional learning. A program focused on these areas helps reduce some of the anxiety connected to attending school and failing behind.
Your school can create a path for disengaged students to succeed.