Phillip Potenziano is superintendent of Brunswick schools.

I love the vibe of a bustling school hallway. Conversations bounce from an upcoming math quiz to what’s for lunch to who’s going to the big game on Friday night. Students have an energy and enthusiasm when they are talking with their peers that you don’t find anywhere else.

Sadly, many of our young people are missing out on this important experience.

According to the most current data available from the state, 1 out of 5 students was chronically absent in the 2020-21 school year. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing more than 10% of school days with excused or unexcused reasons. That’s just two days a month. Even here in the Brunswick School Department, absenteeism rates have increased.

The extraordinary challenges provided by the pandemic understandably impacted student attendance, but the absentee rate was already high prior to the pandemic, with 1 in 6 students considered chronically absent.

Missing school has wide-reaching and long-term consequences. Third graders who have been chronically absent are less likely than their classmates to read at the appropriate grade level. Chronically absent students are also more likely to fail in middle school and drop out of high school.

While we most commonly think of education’s role as teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, there are many other important benefits. Schools help students grow into confident adults, build strong social networks and chart a path for their future, whether that means becoming an engineer or opening a bakery.


Just being at school teaches skills that are needed to succeed in life – working with others, problem-solving and communications, as well as simply showing up on time every day.

What should you do if your student is losing interest in school? First and foremost, communication is key, according to Jess Anderson, the executive director of Count ME In, a statewide organization that focuses on improving school attendance. “If a student is resistant to school, ask them what’s going on, what’s hard for them, and share that with the school.”

A conversation with your student is especially important because there are many factors that cause a loss of interest in school. Some examples are students may find the work difficult, while peer relationships weigh heavily on other students.

“Middle schoolers are often going to school to see their friends,” Anderson said. “If I were a parent with a child who is struggling with attendance, I would first ask, ‘What’s going on with their friends?’ Kids having trouble connecting with peers may not want to be at school.”

Other questions should focus on the possibility of bullying and whether the student is in the most appropriate classes.

The staff and teachers at your school are a valuable resource. In addition to observing your student in the school environment, they are skilled at working with you to create an action plan. It’s important to include your student in these plans. “The more choice and voice that kids get at school, the more likely they will want to be part of school, especially as they get older,” Anderson said.


Communication is also important for high school students, who may have other reasons for missing school. Often, they feel the curriculum is not meaningful or relevant for their future. These students may benefit from a conversation about the need for certain classes. “If your child wants to be a plumber, have them spend time with one to see that they’ll need to know how to read a diagram or understand math to be successful,” Anderson said.

In addition, Brunswick High School offers Extended Learning Opportunities that allow students to explore areas that may not be covered in the classroom, such as careers in health care or the visual arts. ELOs take many forms, including job shadows, independent study, internships, apprenticeships and private instruction.

Brunswick High School offers an Extended Learning Opportunity to juniors and seniors, as well as freshmen and sophomores with permission. You can learn more at

Anderson will join me for a discussion on absenteeism on my March BrunswickBuzz podcast. You can also find good information on the Count ME In website,

To learn more about my podcast, visit

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