When Students Don't Return From School Break

Principals Grapple with Long Trips 'Home' That Interrupt Learning

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Public schools re-opened this week after the mid-winter break but not everyone was back in their seats. Overall attendance rates show a dropoff before and after most school holidays, especially in communities with many new immigrants.

P.S. 161 in Harlem, for one, serves a predominantly Dominican population and often sees its students leave for extended breaks. 

“Our students don't leave for just the period of time of the vacation,” says Principal Pamela Price-Haynes who has worked at the school for almost 30 years. “If they leave and go home, they sometimes go for a month, six weeks, maybe three months.”

The cost is hard to quantify; it depends on the child and the school but educators agree it's difficult for children to catch up after long absences. "You're missing out on great literature, writing, and being with friends," Price-Haynes said. 

P.S. 161’s third grade teacher Jeannette Toro has one student who will be in the Dominican Republic for most of March because of a family emergency. She’s prepared a packet for him take along, math and reading materials to keep him fresh.

“They're not really in school so then they're not practicing what they've learned,” Toro said. “They forget a lot of things.”

But extended absences are viewed differently at the High School for Language and Innovation in the Bronx. Nikki Rank is a reading and writing teacher there.

“I think it's so important for new immigrants to maintain that connection to their home,” she said. “And if they can afford to go home, I think that's huge for their confidence and for their self-identity.”

Rank had one student who returned to Kosovo for a month during which time Rank had him complete four writing assignments.

The school’s principal, Julie Nariman, said she understands why families leave for extended periods. And, as technology allows for more online learning, she said it's getting easier to continue a student’s learning while abroad.

“I think that's the future, and I think a person's education is not something that just takes place in the school building,” Nariman said.


Patricia Willens


Comments [6]

Margarita from Brooklyn, NY

This is OUTRAGEOUS to me! My parents valued our education far more than having us visit family in Ecuador that we would hardly be able to relate to anyway and when they wanted us to visit their country, it was when both, my sister and I, were NOT in school. It's so irresponsible on the parent's part. If it's so important to have the kids visiting their country for it's culture, family, values, you should have just stayed there. You get plenty of time in the summer to take off. What are they teaching their kids if this is how they treat school rules??

Feb. 26 2014 07:39 PM
wingeddancer from Astoria

Children need to spend time in their home country. They need to see grandma. Children are richer when they are bi-cultural and bi-lingual. Schools who recognize this fact can utilize these trips as educational experiences (like the first principal interviewed does). For example, children can do homework from their homeland on: politics, language, culture, history, artwork, musical scores, etc. Too bad our schools don't function on a trimester system where we can choose when to take off. Another idea is to split the vacation equal between summer and winter. This way children can go home either time of the year. We are well into the 21st century. Maybe it is time to recreate the system. Let us not forget that Universities encourage international exchange. Hence, in a technological world, our public schools should do the same?

Feb. 26 2014 04:49 PM

Some people just don't seem to think the rules apply to them...

Feb. 26 2014 01:43 PM
D J Rossell

Simply don't tolerate it. Tell the parents if you expect your child to do well and graduate from this grade to the next they must be in the classroom to learn and earn their grades. Period. If you think they should be in (fill in the blank) then send them to school there.

Feb. 26 2014 09:03 AM
rh from near nyc

This is a huge problem in my son's school, compounded by rich families who pretty much ignore school schedules. Multiple times in high school he has not gotten back midterm exams because a student was away for weeks and still needed to take it. He gets yelled at for attending a high-level sports event for a week, yet students with family abroad go away for a month or more without being held back.

Where I grew up, in a working class neighborhood, the problem was that kids would go south for picking season, and not return at all from April through June. Let's hope that's not the case with these kids.

Finally, do you know that the families plan to settle in the US permanently? It is common for some people to travel back and forth to home, and school complicates their family's plans. I would think that a way to solve this is to reach out to community members, and look into local families hosting children, especially those who are HS age, when their families go abroad.

Feb. 26 2014 09:01 AM
Mary Conway-Spiegel

The issue of our students going back to their home countries for extended periods of time has been a challenge since...forever -- I doubt it will change. Sooner than we can imagine (perhaps even NOW), our black, brown, Dominican, foreign born, etc. population will eclipse the white population in our city.
THIS is why we need to embrace and validate the six year High School graduation rate. THIS is why Traditional Public Schools must be returned to their communities. We are a multi-cultural city, different cultures have different views, customs, relationships and timelines when it comes to education. ARIS, InBloom and the Common Core Standards are priorities, but no one can find an answer to one of the most basic educational challenges in a global/multicultural city?

And people wonder why the U.S. lags behind other countries in educational achievement and global competitiveness?

Feb. 26 2014 08:59 AM

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