Logging In and Tuning Out: Why Are So Many Students Skipping Class?

It’s no secret that the transition from distance learning to in-person learning has been hard on teachers and students. Additionally, students skipping class has been a problem for years, but it feels like attendance has been an even bigger challenge since the pandemic. “In my fourth period specifically, I don’t think I have ever had a full class and sometimes only 10 people are there,” said anonymous Franklin High School (FHS) freshman. 

So what does the transition from distance learning to in-person learning have to do with students skipping classes? According to the anonymous source, “I think if [students] were having a very positive online school experience, students are going to carry over those good study habits to in person, but if it’s the opposite, then students are going to carry over those bad habits.” Athena Andrews, a teacher at FHS, gives more insight into these habits from online school saying, “I think that students didn’t have the push to actually do school because it was so easy to just do it from your bed.” Andrews highlights other experiences that students faced while at home last year saying, “I think also a lot of students had pressures […] from home like taking care of family members. Because you know, younger siblings couldn’t go to school either. And so those things took priority instead of school.” 

A report titled Student Attendance and Enrollment Loss in 2020-21, by American Institutes for Research, detailed two national surveys that were sent out to grades K-12 across approximately 2,500 school districts in May 2020. 753 responses were received. “We found that the average attendance rate in fall 2020 was […] 89% for high school students. These attendance rates were generally lower than the national pre-pandemic averages of […] 92% for middle and high school students. Overall, 18% of districts reported that daily attendance for all students was substantially lower in fall 2020 than in fall 2019.” 

The lack of control teachers had during online learning has become a problem since returning back to in-person school. When asked if they thought the transition from online to in-person learning had influenced the increase in skipping, the anonymous student said, “I think that a lot of people just logged in and totally tuned out.” However, there is only so much teachers can do. The anonymous student went on to say that “self-motivation is a very personal thing. You have to think about where you want to see yourself and what you want to see yourself doing in the future.” Andrews also thinks that “students need to at some point decide whether or not they want to graduate from high school.” 

Osa Esene, Head Basketball Coach and Campus Security Guard at FHS, voices his concerns regarding core classes that students are missing when they skip, such as English. “So you might want to take [English class] a little more seriously than the other ones.” When asked which grade he sees in the hallways during class time the most, Esene said, “Surprisingly I see a lot of freshmen and seniors.” He expresses how important it is to be on top of your work during freshman year, and that when a student falls behind they’re “pretty much gonna be working uphill the whole time.” Freshman year acts as a foundation for the next three years of high school; when you fall behind in your important classes, your core classes, there is a chance you’ll spend the next three years trying to catch up. 

As for seniors, the issue seems to be motivation. When asked why she thinks the transition has been harder for seniors, Monica Perez, a senior at Franklin High School, said that “because it’s our last year, and there’s no motivation, even though we’re right at the finish line.” Esene said that senior students could be looking at a fifth year of high school if they keep cutting classes. Of course, motivation is a struggle for every student. And of course, these past couple of years have taken a toll on every student, no matter the grade. However, seniors have had to deal with canceled trips, canceled dances, loss of job opportunities, and more. These trips and dances are things they have been looking forward to since their freshman year, so the low motivation is understandable. 

What can teachers do to help resolve the skipping problem? Andrews said, “we’re focusing a lot on social-emotional learning this year and trying to really connect with students as people first before trying to teach content.” Another big factor here is how students are greeted by their teachers when they enter the classroom. The anonymous freshman talks about teachers making a big scene when a student who has been skipping does come to class, and the negative effect it tends to have. “It’s unwelcoming, like you’re getting called out and that feels really horrible.” However, Andrews added that many teachers are trying to give students a “sense of belonging” in the classroom. Though at a certain point, there is only so much control teachers have over their students. The anonymous freshman adds that they “think it’s just a very personal decision, whether you walk into class every day, or if you don’t.”

The transition from online school back to in-person school has led to a noticeable increase when it comes to the rate of students skipping. These last couple of years have been a lot for students to handle academically and personally, and one place that is showing up is in attendance. 

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