4 ways Fresno ISD is encouraging students to return, and stay

Principals have sharply increased the number of visits to the homes of absentee students.
By: | June 9, 2021
By the spring, most Fresno USD students were attending school in-person two days a week and participating in two days of online learning. (Photo: Fresno USD)By the spring, most Fresno USD students were attending school in-person two days a week and participating in two days of online learning. (Photo: Fresno USD)

Educators and social workers in Fresno USD spent several months of the pandemic trying to locate one student who had attended the same elementary school for several years.

After countless phone calls and address searches, a staff member who checked the court system learned the student and their mother had been evicted, says Ambra O’Connor, executive director of Fresno USD’s Department of Prevention and Intervention.

A child welfare specialist then went to a convenience store in the student’s neighborhood asking about the family. After the specialist assured the clerk that the mother would not get into any trouble, the clerk revealed the family was living in a room next door.

Once the district made contact, the mother told staff she had feared her child would be taken away from her. The district, however, acted quickly to provide support—such as transportation so the child could be enrolled and supplying the family with clothing, among other assistance, O’Connor says.

The extensive search for just one student, and the non-punitive response, reflected the efforts many districts have undertaken to confront concerning drops in in-person and online attendance during the long disruptions of COVID.

When the school year began fully online, Fresno USD’s attendance rate fell toward 80% as students struggled with tech access. To keep students connected, staff members delivered laptops and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to homeless shelters. O’Connor says.

Here are four other approaches Fresno USD is taking to not only bring students back but convince them to stay:

1. Home visits

Fresno USD staff, particularly principals, have sharply increased the number of visits to the homes of absentee students.

Their goal was to respond more quickly than the district had in the past to emerging attendance problems, O’Connor says.

“It was all hands on deck, and that was pretty successful,” she says.


More from DA: 6 ways to curb COVID’s chronic absenteeism crisis


The district, which is now in hybrid mode, has failed to locate only about 2% of the students who didn’t enroll in the first two week of the school year, O’Connor adds.

2. Identifying barriers

When a student is located, the district does not look to impose punitive measures. Rather, staff members work to help families over barriers, such as tech access o health concerns.

For instance, when administrators looked into why kindergarteners accounted for the largest drop in online attendance, they discovered that many parent couldn’t find childcare, or that some childcare providers were charging extra for students participating in distance learning.

3. Hybrid learning

Most Fresno students now attend in-person two days a week and participate in two days of online learning. The district intends to maintain on remote option, which means many teachers will continue to teach in-person and online simultaneously.

This prevents online students from having to switch teachers, O’Connor says.

“Simultaneous teaching has been a big shift, a big lift and a big investment,” she adds.

If students choose to stay online but struggle, the approach to intervention will be the same as if the student was attending class in person. “We will meet with students and their parents to talk about challenges and look at some of the options we have,” O’Connor says.

4. Social-emotional learning

In the coming months, the district will hire new intervention specialists to work with students on social-emotional skills individually and in small groups.

Administrators will also pilot a wellness initiative to deploy school nurses and social workers to where they are most needed.

“We want positive school climates,” O’Connor says. “We want school to be a place where students want to be.”