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Arizona is trying to rescue K-12 students lost during pandemic

Educators have reported students dropping out of school to take jobs or disappearing from their homes because of financial hardships.

PHOENIX — State education leaders will soon be tallying enrollment numbers to determine how the pandemic is impacting K-12 attendance for the upcoming school year.

Over the past 16 months, educators have seen cases of students dropping out of school to take jobs or disappearing from their homes because of financial hardships.

The state launched a $1 million “Arizona Ready for School Campaign” over the summer on TV, radio and online to provide families with resources to re-enroll this school year.

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman said high school students are at the greatest risk of falling off the radar.

“We are worried if students do not re-enroll, those older high school age students, essentially they would be drop-outs,” Hoffman said.

Statewide, more than 38,000 children disappeared from online and physical classrooms last school year. Some kids moved to private schools or homeschooling. An unknown number stopped attending altogether.

“We are working closely with our school counselors, school leaders, the superintendents to get those answers,” Hoffman said.

Home visits

During the past year, many school principals, teachers and social workers made personal visits to homes in attempts to rescue and retain students.

In May, the principal and staff of Holiday Park School in West Phoenix canvassed the neighborhood within the school’s boundaries, visiting 1,900 homes. They handed out informational flyers and discussed new programs the school is offering.

“It was pretty exciting because we hadn’t seen a lot of our families until we went out that day,” said Principal Deborah Kuenzli.

The outreach effort was designed to retain students, compete with charter schools and rescue students who may have stopped attending school during the pandemic.

 “In Cartwright (school district) we did have a few that slipped through. But most of that was because we couldn’t find them through their address. But we did a lot of home visits and made a lot of phone calls,” Kuenzli said.

RELATED: After enrollment dips, public schools hope for fall rebound

COVID-19 recovery dollars

The state invested COVID-19 recovery dollars to create 140 new counselor and social worker positions. Hoffman hopes those positions help bolster enrollment numbers.

Hoffman’s office will have a better idea in the coming weeks how enrollment looks for the new school year.

“We will change our strategies as needed as we look at the enrollment data,” Hoffman said.

RELATED: Arizona schools act 'with urgency' to identify pandemic learning gaps

RELATED: Where are the students? Peoria school district searching for answers after seeing drop in enrollment

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