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Teachers Knock On Doors Looking For Students Who've Disappeared From Online Learning

Empty school corridors have become the new norm in some parts of the country during the pandemic.
Frederic Cirou
PhotoAlto/Getty Images
Empty school corridors have become the new norm in some parts of the country during the pandemic.

When Dirigo High School, in western Maine, moved to remote learning for a few weeks last fall, sophomore Mason Ducharme started falling behind. And without athletics, he lost any motivation to keep his grades up.

"I just didn't do anything, I just sat in my room all day," he said. "And I didn't do any work. I didn't attend any classes."

Many school districts across the country have reported big drop-offs in attendance as they've shifted to remote learning. Some students, like Ducharme, dropped off the map entirely.

In response, some schools have been calling, texting and even knocking on doors to try to connect with students.

"It's a battle, for sure," says Dirigo High School principal Pam Doyen. "When they choose to be virtual, and then don't Zoom into classes. And it's hard to find them sometimes."

Doyen says after just a few weeks of classes this fall, the school saw that dozens of students had "disappeared," meaning they weren't showing up to remote Zoom classes or responding to communication. She says the school formed a small group to get them back on track.

"We've done calls, texts, emails, home visits, home delivery of materials," Doyen said. "We've scheduled multiple parent meetings, including evening hours, that work best for parents to talk about, 'Your kid's not showing up for their Zooms.' "

Going from doorstep to doorstep

And even though the home visits may only take a few minutes, administrators say they've become a critical tool for keeping students connected to school.

Doyen says the school worked to connect families with basic needs, like heating assistance, and began making deliveries last fall to get them food.

Early on a recent chilly morning, Dirigo teacher Rachel Buck drove around the school district, her car loaded up with boxes of school materials and canned goods.

Buck wasn't scheduled to teach for another two hours, but as the district's remote learning coordinator, she went from doorstep to doorstep, distributing supplies to students she hadn't seen in-person for weeks or months.

It was during the first few deliveries last fall that Buck says she already noticed that a quick face-to-face interaction helped families to trust her, and made it easier to work together to get their children to show up to class.

"So these deliveries, whatever way districts are able to reach out and connect with their families, and their community, it is putting action behind the words, 'I care about your kids' education,' " Buck said. "It's a way to concretely look at it and say, 'Yeah, they do care. They really do.' "

Knowing that teachers care

Administrators acknowledge that the texts and visits haven't fixed everything, but their list of students who've "disappeared" has gone from a few dozen this fall to just a handful now.

After getting bombarded with texts and phone calls, Ducharme finally met with his teachers. He got back to work and is now mostly caught up.

"I'm very thankful to have them," he said. "And having them reach out and say, 'We care about you. We really want you to succeed in life. We want you to be here.'"

Ducharme said he doesn't want to miss class now. He knows that if he does slack off, his teachers will hunt him down again.

Copyright 2021 Maine Public

Robbie grew up in New Hampshire, but has since written stories for radio stations from Washington, D.C., to a fishing village in Alaska. Robbie graduated from the University of Maryland and got his start in public radio at the Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Before arriving at Maine Public Radio, he worked in the Midwest, where he covered everything from beer to migrant labor for public radio station WMUK in Kalamazoo, Michigan.