The Devils Youth Foundation is teaming up with the Newark Public School District to help bolster attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism at the city’s high schools with a creative approach for getting kids back to class.
As part of a new effort, the foundation – which is the charitable arm for the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center – and district leaders will reward students who have improved their attendance with tickets to select Devils home games and Amazon gift cards.
The program kicked off in January and will run through June at four of the city’s 14 high schools – Barringer, Central, Malcom X Shabazz and Weequahic – which have a combined student population of 3,400.
Each month, 10 students from each school will be selected as winners, along with one pupil from each school who achieves perfect attendance. Additionally, a grand prize winner will receive a “Choose Your Own Adventure at Prudential Center” package, which includes a 16-person catered suite to any mutually agreed upon event at the Newark-based venue, such as a game, concert or family show.
Through positive messaging, motivation and incentives, the campaign aims to boost attendance rates by 2% at participating schools. Then, at the end of the current academic year, the foundation and district leaders will gather student feedback that will be used to inform a plan to expand the program’s impact in the future.
The Newark Public School District – which has long struggled with poor attendance – launched campaigns in the past to motivate students to get to school, as well as implemented policy changes, to address the issue.
Although this marks the first time the Devils Youth Foundation has partnered with the Newark schools leadership team, the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center have a long history of working with public schools in local communities, according to Kate Annis, executive director of the Devils Youth Foundation.
“That includes many issues providing equitable and inclusive access to sports, promoting reading and now working together to combat chronic absenteeism,” she said.
The Devils Youth Foundation also focuses on food insecurity; health and wellness; safe places to play, learn and grow; and diversity and inclusion by forming strategic partnerships with community organizations to create and expand youth programming.
“While the NJ Devils have worked to better New Jersey communities for 40 years, the Devils Youth Foundation was officially created in 2020,” Annis said. “Since we called Newark home 15 years ago, the Devils Youth Hockey and Growth Initiatives team has previously worked with the district and the city on many different programs to bring access to sports and hockey to students district-wide.”
“The Devils Youth Foundation is excited to embark on this partnership to encourage kids to come to school and we look forward to working closely with Newark Board of Education to find long-term solutions,” Annis said.
Newark Public School Assistant Superintendent Maria Ortiz said, “Our goal is to send a strong message about the partnership and communal commitment that NBOE and the NJ Devils Foundation’s dedication for all Newark students to succeed.”
Ortiz went on to say, “Our long-term efforts encourage students and families about the importance of being in school every day. Some of the core issues stem from poverty, health and hardships beyond students’ control. We intend to motivate student attendance, and help schools create a school community that is warm and welcoming, engages students and families in the life of the school, and offers culturally competent and enriched learning opportunities. We need to work together to educate students and families about how chronic absenteeism results in lost learning time.”
According to data presented by the Newark Board of Education in December 2022, just over 35% of the 40,000 students in the district were chronically absent in November 2022, a 4% increase from the prior month and 8% from the start of the 2022-23 school year.
For the 2020-21 school year, the percentage of students absent more than 10% of the year was 16%, district figures show. Statewide, absenteeism also rose, with 13% of students reported as chronically absent, up from 11% in 2018-19, according to the state.
Like many other states, New Jersey includes chronic absenteeism as a measure of school accountability in the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan and requires districts with high chronic absenteeism rates to develop a corrective action plan.
In recent years, districts across the country have faced soaring absenteeism, which experts warn, can lead to low academic achievement, delinquency, truancy, dropping out and substance abuse among students.
While chronic absenteeism – which is defined as missing 10% or more of school days (18 days or more each school year or about two days per month) – has always been a concern, it grew during the COVID-19 crisis.
The extended public health emergency compounded issues that have always contributed to poor attendance, from lack of food at home to bullying in school. As districts try to keep attendance rates up, they are faced with several post-pandemic challenges, such as transportation problems, student illness and housing instability.
At Newark Public Schools, Ortiz said administrators “are monitoring every students’ attendance in each school, every single day.”
“Collectively, the district wants to raise attendance by 2% by the end of the year and promote a culture where all students come to school daily,” she said.