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Long-Term Absentees

Find Out Why They Don't Return

By Emily Mann, high school special education teacher, Elmhurst, New York

Ten years ago I was a special education teacher and advisor in New York City's Newtown High School, responsible for identifying "long-term absentees." One of them was Miguel, a motivated 11th-grader who had disappeared after calling to report that a fire had ravaged his mother’s apartment. He remained on the long-term absentee list for almost a year.

Eventually, I located him. He had gone to work full-time to support himself and help his mother. Miguel wanted desperately to return to school and graduate, but he thought he was too old. He had no idea that students can attend public school through age 21. After we spoke, Miguel returned to high school the following week. Nearly two years behind his peers, Miguel received his high school diploma. On the last day of school, he told me that he was graduating because of me and that I’d changed his life forever. I never thought of it that way—I was just doing my job.