Waianae schools use tough love, outreach to get kids to class - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Waianae schools use tough love, outreach to get kids to class

WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Half of Waianae High School's 1,800 students missed no more than two days of school in the first quarter of the school year.

But the rest of them were absent more than two days, meeting the Department of Education's definition of kids who don't regularly go to school.

Waianae elementary and intermediate schools also had low attendance marks.

"Just being absent a few days is an incredible amount of time when you look at the learning that should have been going on with those kids," Waianae High School principal Disa Hauge said.

Schools have seen improvements in absenteeism over the last three years, as part of a push to get kids to class. But a significant percentage of students continue to miss big chunks of the school year.

The Waianae-Nanakuli school complex has the second-highest rates of chronic absenteeism, behind the Kau-Pahoa complex on Hawaii Island.

In the 2014-15 school year, 27 percent of Waianae-Nanakuli elementary school students were absent for 15 days or more, the definition of chronic absenteeism. That's down from 38 percent in 2013, but still far higher than the statewide rate of 11 percent.

Chronic absenteeism is one of the factors used to rate Hawaii's elementary schools. In the coming year, the state also plans to more closely track absenteeism at middle and high schools.

Hauge said Leeward Coast kids miss school for a variety of reasons, besides just wanting to cut class. There are illnesses and teacher turnover. Some families are dealing with homelessness. Some families count on teens to watch younger siblings. 

"Sometimes our kids have to stay home to take care of them because the family has to choose between losing a day of pay or sending a kid to school," Hauge said.

By law, chronically absenteeism cases can be referred to the courts. Waianae High has done that. School staffers and police also conduct unannounced truancy sweeps. 

"HPD comes on campus and we pick them up on campus out of class and in the community where they shouldn't be out of class, and they get processed," Hauge said.

Parents are notified when their kids are absent five, 10 and 15 times during the school year. School personnel follow up with home visits. 

"We try and figure out what their issues are, whether it's home issues, school issues, medical issues, and see what we can do about it," she said.

Last month, Waianae Intermediate began cracking down on truancy.

Principal Raechelle Fabrao said thanks to their efforts, October attendance was about 90 percent. Meanwhile, Waianae High School started a social media campaign called #WaianaeStrong to encourage students to get to class.

"Going to school really is your responsibility," Hauge said. "That's your job that you do for your family and your community."

She said schools have a responsibility, too: To keep kids engaged in learning.


Waianae-Nanakuli Elementary SchoolsPercentage of students chronically absent in 2014-15 school year
Leihoku Elementary19 percent
Maili Elementary32 percent
Makaha Elementary26 percent
Nanaikapono Elementary33 percent
Nanakuli Elementary24 percent
Waianae Elementary30 percent

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