A student runs into Whitehorse Elementary School on June 12. As many Yukon students head back to the classroom this week, the territory’s child and youth advocate Annette King is concerned about students who aren’t making it to class. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Child and youth advocate speaks out on school attendance

Young Yukoners are entitled to an education, says King

As many Yukon students head back to the classroom this week, the territory’s child and youth advocate is concerned about students who aren’t making it to class.

Officials with the Department of Education insist they are taking action to help.

Advocate Annette King said she notified education officials in May about the “systemic issue of inconsistent” school attendance.

In a statement Aug. 20 — the day before many Yukon schools started their 2019/2020 school year — she made it clear that Yukon students between the ages of five and 21 are entitled to an education with those between five and 16 required to go to school.

She will be meeting with officials to address the issues for children where absences have been identified as an issue.

“We are very concerned about the number of children who don’t attend school consistently and what this means for future outcomes for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Department of Education spokesperson Susie Ross said statistics are being worked on to determine school absences from the 2018/19 school year, but in 2017/18, Yukon students missed 21 days on average for the year. In Whitehorse the average was 18 days in the school year, compared to 32 days in the communities.

“The Department of Education works on an ongoing basis with the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate. We last met in May and will meet with her again in September. Families, communities and schools all have responsibilities to support students in attending school,” Ross said in an email.

King highlighted the recent auditor general’s report on the territory’s education system, noting the gaps identified between achievement for First Nations and non-First Nations students in areas including literacy, numeracy and writing.

“If children don’t feel a sense of belonging and success at school, it is less likely that they will attend consistently; at the same time, you won’t feel success at school if you don’t go,” King said.

She also pointed to issues cited in her review of group care published in April, showing irregular attendance and dropping out of school were major concerns for those living in government group homes.

“Ultimately, we are hoping that children and youth will return back to school, with the necessary supports they need to feel successful” King said.

Ross said the department is “committed to working with the Child and Youth Advocate, and students, educators, families, school councils, and Yukon First Nations governments to ensure students have all of the supports they need to succeed at school, including attending school.”

Among the efforts outlined by the department are continued work with Yukon First Nations to both implement the Joint Education Action Plan aimed at improving support and success of Yukon First Nations students and on education agreements with individual First Nations; working with the Victoria Gold Student Encouragement Society on Every Student, Every Day which helps fund attendance initiatives; implementing the territory’s new curriculum which officials say is designed to be more flexible and personalized to students’ strengths and interests and uses technology to provide more options to complete school work when students are absent; and working with schools and school councils on ways to improve attendance and develop their own attendance policies.

Officials with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation could not be reached for comment, but its effort to ensure students attend school regularly is highlighted on its website with an Attendance Works page (http://www.kwanlindun.com/index.php/attendanceworks).

”Our goal this year is to ensure that every student attends school regularly,” the page reads.

“Showing up for school has a huge impact on a student’s academic success starting in kindergarten and continuing through high school. Even as children grow older and more independent, families play a key role in making sure students get to school safely everyday.”

It highlights the impact of regular school attendance — research shows, for example that by Grade 6 chronic absence (defined as 18 or more days in a 180-day school year) is proven as an early warning sign for students at risk of dropping out of school — and provide videos and resources to help families ensure students are going to class.

Resources including videos, tip sheets for families and a colouring page are all part of the Attendance Works page.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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