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Students discuss absenteeism and possible solutions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Santiago Griego, a junior at Rio Grande High School, works about 35 hours a week.

His classmate Yasmin Parra-Venegas sometimes misses class to go to doctor appointments for her seizure condition.

And Reyes Calabaza, 17, knows getting to school is another hurdle, having to get on the bus by roughly 6:45 in the morning to make it to class on time.

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From left, Rio Grande High students Alain Hielo, Santiago Griego, Axel Hielo and Yasmin Parra-Vengas talk about why kids are skipping class and how to boost attendance during a student panel discussion at a Mission: Graduate conference at the Convention Center. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

School isn’t the only thing students have on their plates, and it’s not always their priority.

That’s why the three teens were part of a panel Thursday, giving their perspective on absenteeism and speaking to a roomful of educators on the responsibilities students balance, some of the reasons kids aren’t showing up to class and what schools can do about the problem.

Their panel was part of Mission: Graduate’s Every Day Matters Attendance Conference, held at the Albuquerque Convention Center, which addressed attendance issues and discussed solutions with teachers and school administrators from across the state.

Axel Hielo, a 16-year-old at Rio Grande High, said lunch is a popular time for kids to leave campus, saying they may go get a bite to eat and never come back. Or some kids try to avoid bullying during lunch by skipping class.

“It’s really easy to leave campus,” Parra-Venegas said.

Students on the panel said connection with teachers is key, adding that the instructors who have better relationships with kids can both notice when they don’t show up and have the rapport to address the reasons.

And some suggested offering incentives for kids who are chronically absent to get back to school.

The Rio Grande juniors said one of their biggest motivators to attend classes is Kristine Moore, a teacher at the high school, saying she encourages them to come every day and connects with them.

“I’m proud of what they’ve done,” Moore said. “That’s how I measure my success.”

The conference, which more than 400 people registered for, is part of a goal by Mission: Graduate – the education initiative of the United Way of Central New Mexico – to get 60,000 new graduates with college degrees and certificates in central New Mexico by 2020.

Last year, New Mexico students graduated from high school at a 71.1 percent rate, and Albuquerque Public Schools had a rate of 67.9 percent.

Griego said that before the conference he didn’t realize how widespread attendance problems were in the state.

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