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With chronic absenteeism rates up 20% in AZ schools, one local nonprofit seeks answers and solutions

The rate of chronic absenteeism in Arizona schools rose by 20%, from just before the pandemic. To help address this, the Helios Education Foundation awarded nearly half a million dollars to Valley of the Sun United Way.

Dawn Gerundo with the nonprofit said they’re spreading awareness with help from Read On Arizona, a state-run initiative.

“Read On Arizona has formed an Arizona task force made up of multiple entities across the state to kind of look and listen and hear what’s working and what’s not working, and tie it back to evidence-based solutions,” said Gerundo.

Gerundo said they’ll work to recruit schools and begin understanding what chronic absenteeism looks like in different communities.

“We are going to partner with them and take those individual school districts that have the highest need in Maricopa County and move them into the second phase with coaching and mentoring if they choose to participate,” she said.

Gerundo added that the goal is for each school to develop or revamp its own year-round attendance plan.

That means asking questions, she said, like: “How are they gonna address attendance? Are they pulling their data weekly? Are they targeting the children that are missing two times per week?”

Overall, Gerundo said they’re looking to find ways to ensure solutions stick, and are community-based.

Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.