Partnering with Success Mentors in
Greater Johnstown Public Schools

Johnstown, a small city within rural surroundings, had an average chronic absenteeism rate of 36.4% for secondary students and 28.5% for elementary pupils. More concerning are the rates for subgroups, with 43% of students with disabilities and 43.1% of pupils identified as economically disadvantaged were chronically absent. In addition to aiding a substantial number of disadvantaged students with a high level of chronic absenteeism, there are an increasing number of students who need urgent care from counselors to deal with trauma and anxiety. Like many districts, GJSD staff find that students who begin to fall behind are reluctant to return to school because trying to catch up feels overwhelming to them.

To address these issues, GJSD created a holistic, multi-year plan to support PK-12 students and families and alleviate chronic absenteeism that included root cause analysis, family engagement plans, staff training, and the development of attendance teams and implementation of tier 1 attendance strategies. Upon successful implementation of foundational practices, in year 2 GJSD began piloting a success mentor program and launched district-wide in year 3.

Schoolwide attendance teams identified students who might benefit from a success mentor—a caring adult in the school building who builds positive relationships, provides developmental coaching and support, and helps students feel more engaged and connected to school. To successfully navigate their role, success mentors receive training and are equipped with a handbook with evidence-based strategies. During the 2021-22 school year our chronic absenteeism rate at Johnstown Jr-Sr High School (grades 7-12) was 35.33% and at Warren Street Elementary (grades 4-6) the CA rate was 26.91%. After a full-year of implementation of the Success Mentor program and other elements of the plan, GJSD saw an decrease in the absenteeism rate in one school by 16.4% and another by 36.3%. In addition to these decreases in chronic absenteeism, students in the success mentoring program improved their academic outcomes. And beyond these impacts, students without attendance challenges are seeking out support and relationships with success mentors, family engagement conversations and support have increased, students are advocating for themselves more, and students feel more connected to school.

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