Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has a message for the 1,000 or so students who haven’t shown up to class since the school year started on Aug. 29: We want you back.
To get them back, the school district has contracted with a company to help them find and enroll the missing students. The school board approved the $382,000 contract with Teach Tech U last month.
Their efforts have involved knocking on doors, talking to neighbors and property managers, posting flyers and other methods to locate students, most of whom are older students who quit going to school when they turned 16, the state’s legal dropout age. There’s also a large number of elementary-aged students who are unaccounted-for this year.
Hope Davis, the founder and chief technology officer for Teach Tech U, said that her team is an “extra set of hands” that will go into neighborhoods and churches on weekends and evenings to find students, talk to them about re-enrolling and offer support throughout the year if they take that step.
“What I would ask the community is to keep an eye out for us and our team,” Davis said. “We will get to know you. We will be available to you. That is one of our hallmarks.”
Davis and school district leaders spoke about the effort to re-enroll missing students at a news conference at Glenn High School on Thursday.
There is some urgency to find as many of the missing students as possible by Sept. 23, the 20th day of the school year. Students who have not set foot in a classroom in the first 20 days are counted as dropouts. School districts report that data to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
Fredricca Stokes, the assistant superintendent of student services, said that the importance of finding these missing students doesn’t lessen after the 20th day of the school year.
At the beginning of the school year, the district had about 3,000 students it considered missing.
“Some of these students have not shown up,” Stokes said. “We are down to about 1,000 students who we are still looking for.”
Stokes appealed to the community to get in touch with the school district if they know a student who has moved away or is no longer in school.
She also encouraged students who have dropped out to reach out to see how the school district can help with a return to school. The school district has mental health counselors, social workers and other resources that can help students and their families or connect them with community resources.
A major reason students drop out is to get a job to help their families.
They may feel too timid to talk to their boss about adjusting hours, said Ronda Mays, the director of family engagement for the school district.
“Sometimes our students are afraid to ask those questions of their bosses. They think they won’t get hours. But sometimes we have to have that conversation or maybe get a different job if you can’t get those hours,” she said.
At the end of the 2020-21 school year — a year dominated by remote learning — the school district had 5,000 students it considered missing. By the 20th day of the 2021-22 school year, the district had located all but about 530 students.
Once located, students will be assigned a case manager by Teach Tech U who will follow them to make sure they don’t become chronically absent, an indicator that a student may be considering dropping out.
“We’ll follow the students throughout the school year,” Davis said. “If it’s six, nine, absences, the process starts again.”
PHOTOS: Press conference to discuss students missing from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools