July 10, 2019

ACE Program Seeks to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism at PHS

ACE MENTORING: Mike Roseborough, Princeton Family YMCA’s ACE (Accept. Complete. Excel.) project director, is working with Princeton Public Schools on the program to reduce chronic absenteeism at Princeton High School. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Family YMCA)

By Donald Gilpin

Reducing chronic absenteeism at Princeton High School (PHS) is the goal of the YMCA’s ACE (Accept. Complete. Excel.) Program, which is kicking off this year with the support of a $300,000 grant over the next five years from the Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF).

Citing an absenteeism rate of nearly 30 percent among PHS junior and senior students of color, ACE Project Director Mike Roseborough, who joined the Y’s team last December, said, “We want to reduce that number by junior year, to help them academically and get them on a path to success, to give them the tools to compete. We want them to excel.”

The Princeton Family YMCA and PPS were one of 10 nonprofit and school partnerships selected by the PACF to win support through its All Kids Thrive initiative, which is focused on reducing chronic absenteeism in Mercer County.

Recent overall chronic absenteeism rates in Mercer County, according to PACF, were 9.5 percent in Princeton, 6.2 percent in Lawrenceville, 12 percent in Hamilton, and 30 percent in Trenton. Citing poverty, homelessness, and illness as major risk factors for chronic absenteeism, PACF noted that more than one in three children in Mercer County public schools are at a level of poverty where they are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals.

The first two Princeton YMCA ACE program cohorts of students in the coming year will include seven PHS sophomores and juniors and five freshmen.

Roseborough noted that there are many different reasons why these students are chronically absent, ranging from domestic violence, sibling issues, and work versus school conflicts to laundry and dirty clothes issues, lack of food, and health problems.

“The main issue is community disengagement,” Roseborough said. “It often starts with the parents’ disengagement on multiple fronts. This program is about engaging them in the community, about building a community for them.”

He continued, “We want to give these students as much exposure as possible, to engage them in the school and the larger community. We want to provide them with resources that can benefit them but that they may not be aware of.”

The YMCA and the school district social workers and administrators identify participating students based on attendance, academic records, and other factors. For the first years of the ACE initiative, the Y is focused on engaging boys of color, mostly from economically-disadvantaged circumstances, who miss school frequently because of numerous obstacles and barriers in their daily lives.

Modeled after the Baltimore-based THREAD mentoring program that has been very successful in supporting students who are at most risk of failing or dropping out of school, ACE will work with teams of volunteer community mentors to weave together support networks for students, broadening their social networks, academic opportunities, and enrichment activities.

“Chronic absenteeism is often about removing barriers — barriers that may prevent access to clean clothes, access to academic supports, and even access to bias-free learning,” said PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane. “Our staff have enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to work with volunteers, with our community partners, and with our students to identify, overcome, and eliminate those barriers.”

Roseborough, who has worked in the youth services sector for more than 13 years, expressed his enthusiasm for the program and his optimism in working with the two cohorts of PHS students this year. “This is an exciting opportunity for us to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our students,” he said. “Already I’ve enjoyed working side by side with professional colleagues here in town, and the dedicated volunteers who are eager to be a part of a solution. Our students, while challenged in many ways, are wonderful young people who are excited to have caring adults in their lives.”

Roseborough joined the Princeton Family YMCA from the Newark and Vicinity YMCA, where he served as the program director of the 21st Century Learning Center grant, a program that focuses on academic support and social-emotional learning for students.

PACF described its All Kids Thrive program as a ”bold new initiative to transform the lives of young people living in poverty.” In Mercer County, PACF noted, more than one in 10 students are chronically absent from school and those absences dramatically lower their chance of success thorough their lives. The 10 All Kids Thrive partnerships will work in Trenton, Hamilton, and Lawrence, as well as Princeton.

Roseborough described the initiative as “Big Brothers Big Sisters meets YMCA. It’s unique for a YMCA to run a program like this. Setting them up for success is the right idea. I’m looking forward to taking on the challenges.”