Absenteeism Rife at Boston High Schools

Courtney Williams's picture
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More than a third of the students in Boston public high schools were chronically absent last year, even as the city undertook additional efforts to lure students to school, according to a Globe analysis. 

At East Boston High School, half of the students missed at least 19 days, more than 10 percent of the school year. The rates of chronic absenteeism were even higher at Brighton High, Charlestown High, and Dorchester Academy. Across the city, 7,400 high school students were chronically absent.

The figures illustrate the enormous challenges most local high schools face in keeping students in class, and more significantly, preventing them from quitting altogether. Boston high schools plagued by absenteeism tended to have among the highest dropout rates, the analysis of attendance data showed.

“I think it is absolutely a crisis,’’ said Ranny Bledsoe, headmaster at Charlestown High School, where she has revamped a number of programs to make school more meaningful to students, but also has been hampered by budget cuts. “Are we doing enough to address it? Absolutely not.’’

Students miss school for a variety of reasons: They may be sick, homeless, working, or taking care of a sibling or their own child. Other times, they skip to avoid being bullied, or because they are bored with classes, struggling academically, or frustrated that they are so far behind that they think they will never graduate.

Carynn Donald, a ninth-grader at Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester, estimates that she has missed a dozen days this year, often because she woke up tired and went back to sleep. Donald said her interest in school waned in the fourth or fifth grade when the homework became more difficult and she had to repeat two grades in middle school.

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