Chronic absences spike at Oakland school as students struggle to stay motivated during distance learning

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- To watch the entire series MACK: A pandemic school story, check out our ABC7 Bay Area streaming apps on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.

Two years ago, chronic absences were a severe problem at McClymonds High School in Oakland.

The number of students with severe chronic absenteeism hovered around 17.2%. If you count those moderately absent and those students at risk, just 7.5% of the student body was showing up to class regularly.

But things changed last year when the school got a challenge grant from a community group.

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The school used the money to give students a financial incentive to be in class. They raffled off gift cards, sneakers and $500 rewards.

It worked. Last year, chronic absences dropped to 11% and students regularly going to class jumped to over 53% -- but then the pandemic started.

"This school year, it's back up to 17.9%," said principal Jeffrey Taylor, who used to stand in the hallway as school ended and asked students what they learned. During the pandemic, it has become harder to check up on students.

"You have some students who don't have somebody at home to push them, to check up on them," said Alberta Smith, the school's truancy compliance specialist.

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The staff is trying to keep kids motivated. The return of sports will help.

Last week, the football team was allowed to return to campus to practice at the school's stadium for an upcoming six-game schedule.

McClymonds has won three state championships in the past four years so the return to play is certain to play a big role in boosting school morale while students wait for a return to the classroom.

To watch the football team's first day of practice and other ways the school is trying to boost morale, check out the extended story of "MACK - A Pandemic School Story" on our ABC7 News streaming apps.
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