Annie* was a kindergarten student in Trenton who was absent often: three days one week, five the next.

School staff were having trouble reaching her mother, so they called Luis, the All Kids Thrive Navegador at Arm In Arm and asked for help. Luis’ work with the school was funded through the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s All Kids Thrive initiative and his goal was to help kids attend class. Often, he was engaging with the whole family.

Luis learned that Annie’s mom was struggling with mental health issues and suffering from previous trauma. She was having a tough time holding down a job, so the family did not have a steady home. He connected her with Womanspace, a local nonprofit that helps victims of domestic and sexual violence. He introduced her to other local families who could help her daughter get to school. Arm In Arm also helped the family with food, clothing, housing, and other resources.

The story of Annie (a pseudonym) and her mom was among those recounted when the Community Foundation celebrated the work of our ten All Kids Thrive grantee partners during the Foundation for Education Administration’s (FEA) statewide Chronic Absenteeism Summit.

The Foundation for Educational Administration (FEA), another AKT grantee partner, is the professional learning division of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. Educators from across the state attended the July 26 event, Absenteeism Summit, which featured keynote speaker Dr. Michael Gottfried, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, who edited the book, “Absent from School: Understanding and Addressing Student Absenteeism.” Each attendee received a copy of the book compliments of the Community Foundation.

The Community Foundation was keenly featured at this absenteeism summit: Board Chair Sonia Delgado offered closing remarks, while Trustee Emeritus Eleanor Horne, Grants & Programs Vice President Nelida Valentin and All Kids Thrive Project Management Consultant Luke Thompson shared background about AKT and some of our key findings about children and adolescents living in poverty and increasing student engagement.

School Superintendents Scott Rocco of Hamilton, and James Earle of Trenton, offered their reflections about the AKT initiative. Staff from our school and nonprofit grantee partners also participated, with each sharing their strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism, pivotal moments highlighting the importance of their work, and successes achieved as a result.

Annie and her mom are one of those success stories. They now live in a studio apartment. The little girl is doing well in school and attending classes regularly.

“The pivotal moment though, really came for me at the end of the third semester,” said Luis of Arm In Arm.

Reviewing attendance data with the vice-principal, they noticed that Annie had achieve perfect attendance.

“That was when it really hit me and I thought, ‘this is real, we are really making a difference here,’” he said. “This mom is dealing with so many issues, but we were able to get her stable enough that her daughter was now thriving. It’s a really beautiful thing.”

“Even though this is a celebration of our five-year effort, it is only the beginning of our efforts to set up youth in our region for success,” said Jeffrey M. Vega, President & CEO of the Community Foundation. “We’re now translating our work into recommendations that we look forward to sharing with policymakers in the educational field.  Our goal is to share the results from this experience to assist policymakers in their efforts to continually improve the system so that all kids can thrive.”

The Community Foundation plans to release an evaluation of the initiative in the coming months. Sign up for our newsletter to receive a copy.

We would like to thank our grantee and community partners for their work over the past five years:

Robbins Familias Juntas/Robbins Families Together

Every Child Valued: Every Student, Every Day Initiative

Building a Culture Where All Kids Thrive in School and Beyond: BE THERE!

Positive Improvement (and Engagement) Through the Arts

Connect Trenton

The Rivera Chronic Absenteeism Program

Princeton YMCA ACE Program

Education and Health: Linking Data for Student Success

TPS Every Day Matters Project

Arts Lab