Hollister High—like many schools throughout the U.S.—has seen student attendance decline since the pandemic, and local educators are addressing the issue by identifying the data behind the numbers and partnering with the local school and business community.
While the overall attendance rate among Hollister High School students is higher than the state average, the number has noticeably dropped since the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions forced students out of the classroom to learn online starting in early 2020.
More concerning among local high school officials is the rate of “chronic absenteeism,” which is defined as missing at least 10% of school days throughout a school year and has risen dramatically since 2019.
The increase of chronic absenteeism will not resolve itself with the passage of time, and San Benito High School District staff are taking “proactive measures to address and reverse this decline and ensure that students continue to receive a quality education despite ongoing challenges,” the district said in a statement to this newspaper.
During the 2018-19 school year, 9% of Hollister High students were chronically absent, according to data compiled by the district. That rate more than doubled the year of the pandemic—to 22.6% in 2019-20; 26.7% in 2020-21; and 26.4% for the 2022-23 school year.
Overall attendance rates at Hollister High were 96% the year before the pandemic in 2018-19; dropping to 90.9% in 2020-21. Attendance has begun to rise again since 2020, to a rate of 91.4% in 2021-22; and 93.5% in 2022-23, according to Hollister High School.
Statewide, the high school attendance rate was 90.3% in 2021-22; and 91.1% in 2022-23.
Schools nationwide are grappling with similar challenges. According to a recent New York Times report, about 25% of students nationwide—in all grade levels—were chronically absent in 2022-23. In California, chronic absenteeism jumped from about 12% in 2018-19, to about 30% in 2021-22.
Part of Hollister High’s effort to increase attendance includes the use of a collaborative and data-driven approach using a “multi-tiered system of support” to provide consistent messaging to students by pinpointing the precise causes of absenteeism and “implementing targeted interventions…utilizing additional resources from partnering agencies when needed.”
Another step is the high school’s partnership with Hollister School District to extend the messaging about the importance of attendance to elementary students. That partnership also includes Attention2Attendance, a company that works with school districts to improve attendance, SBHSD staff said. The collaboration aims to set students on an early path toward committed daily school attendance.
“By working collaboratively with the elementary schools, Hollister High School is not only addressing current attendance challenges but also investing in future Balers,” said Emmanuel Nelson, SBHSD Director of Student Support Services. “This effort has included sponsoring assemblies put together by high school students for the elementary school students and creating a 15-second video now running in Premiere Cinemas, the local movie theater, promoting the value of school attendance from kindergarten through high school.”
Hollister High School has also reached out to local businesses to help with the effort, specifically with Ohana Shave Ice to offer gift certificates for the school to distribute to students who have either “excellent or improving attendance,” district staff said. The first set of 50 certificates were presented to students last week.
Furthermore, the district has engaged local businesses who can provide resources and other incentives for attendance to students who might lack transportation or other basic needs.
“Hollister High School’s commitment to addressing the decline in student attendance by fostering a collaborative community effort and utilizing data-driven interventions not only safeguards the education of its students during these challenging times but also sets the standard for addressing additional educational challenges in the future,” Nelson said.