On Saturday, February 29th, the 2nd Annual Resource Rainbow DP at PJ Hill Elementary School, (1010 East State Street) presented a fun and educational program for Trenton school district families. Attendees received community program information from 32 non-profit organizations and had a chance to obtain toiletry kits, bus tickets, and rain gear. It was a morning filled with free food, music, face painting and plenty of giveaways.

Trenton Public School staff, community partners and The College of New Jersey volunteers were on hand offer information, resources, and support to families about reducing barriers of chronic absenteeism.

At last year’s event, the Trenton Board of Education noted that “chronically absent students are at an increased risk for being held back, struggling academically, dropping out of school, and getting into trouble with the law.”

Reasons for absences vary, but specific populations at high risk for absence include students with special needs, students with children who need childcare, students in the child welfare system and students who stray off track from graduating. Other factors such as homelessness, chronic illness, transportation, working or taking care of siblings also have an effect on attendance. When a student and family has limited resources, survival often becomes a competing priority with school making it more difficult to choose the latter.

Chronic absenteeism is a hidden crisis, because absences dramatically lower student chances of academic and career success but tracking their day-to-day challenges takes time and special skills to accomplish. In Mercer County, more than 1 in 10 students are chronically absent from school – which means they miss an average of two days a month (about 10 percent of the school year). In the Trenton Public Schools, approximately 25% of the students experience chronic absenteeism.

Through the Every Day Matters & Parent Connect Initiative, Trenton Public Schools hopes to significantly reduce absenteeism by offering families tailored assistance. Funded in part by the Princeton Area Community Foundation, the campaign includes the establishment of Parent Connect sites, increasing parent engagement capacity and networks, hosting resource/parent conference events and district level attendance teams. The support of community organizations and internal outreach teams is essential, as they permit the school district to go above and beyond; for example, some types of intervention have succeeded through the establishment of school and district level attendance teams.

School attendance teams include school nurses, counselors, parent liaisons, attendance officers, building administrator, and other staff members. During attendance meetings, chronically absent student lists are reviewed and conversations begin to take place to see how the schools can provide higher levels of support. Some intervention strategies include phone calls, home visits, referrals to community partners and onsite meeting requests are conducted.

The Resource Rainbow Drive is sponsored by All Kids Thrive, Princeton Area Community Foundation, Capitol County Children’s Collaborative, NJ YMCA State Alliance/Ready Set Healthy, Aetna Better Health NJ, Aramark, Smith Family Foundation, Horizon NJ Health, WellCare Health Plans Inc., and Amerigroup an Anthem Company.