Northampton Chronic Absenteeism Rates ‘Basically Double Pre-COVID’

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By Stefanie Jackson – More Northampton students are chronically absent from school now compared to the period before the COVID-19 pandemic, Northampton schools Superintendent Eddie Lawrence reported at the April 28 Northampton school board meeting.

As of April 14, the rates of chronic truancy at each of Northampton’s public schools are: 44% at Northampton High School, 35% at Northampton Middle School, 29% at Occohannock Elementary, and 25% at Kiptopeke Elementary.

Those rates are “basically double pre-COVID,” Lawrence said. There are “a lot of things that we’re going to spend a lot of time correcting following this pandemic, but getting attendance back to where it should be is going to be an ongoing goal of this division for quite a while,” he said.

EMT Instructional Program

Northampton High School Assistant Principal Heather Marsh updated the Northampton school board last week on the development of a program that would permit rising juniors and seniors to take EMT classes during regular school hours, get certified, and start a career right out of high school.

Emergency medical technicians are in demand, and there are students who are interested in becoming EMTs, but many find it difficult to attend the classes, which are typically held at night and on weekends.

Marsh is working with Terry Christman, an employee of the Northampton County Department of Emergency Medical Services and a CPR and first aid instructor, to find someone who could teach the course during regular school hours.

The EMT course is approved by the Virginia Department of Education as an elective and is divided into three parts. Students who take the course also can get dual-enrollment credit, Marsh said.

She noted the three-part course would fit well into a 90-minute block schedule, which the high school will begin following this fall. The entire EMT course can be completed in one school year.

Of 44 Northampton students who completed a survey on the potential new EMT program, 22 submitted positive responses and 15 showed serious interest in becoming certified EMTs.

To teach the course to a class of 14 to 16 students would cost the school division around $14,000, Marsh estimated, including the cost for each student to take the final exam.

The course textbooks are expensive, about $300 each, so the school could purchase a set to be checked out by students, she said.

The class would be taught at an EMT training site in Machipongo, and the school division could provide transportation from the high school and back.

A student who completes the EMT course, passes the exam, and is certified is “hirable immediately,” Marsh said.

School board member William Oakley said the program sounded “exciting … especially if you can start a career at a good-paying job – it pays as much as a starting teacher, or more.”

Summer Program

Lawrence announced a summer educational opportunity for qualifying students.

The Virginia Space Flight Academy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is offering five full scholarships to Northampton students for its summer program, which includes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities such as robotics and coding.

A Northampton schools committee will select the students to participate, who must include at least two females.

The participating students will stay six days and five nights at the Wallops Flight Facility, Lawrence said.

The school division’s budget includes summer camp funding that hasn’t been used since before the COVID-19 pandemic, which can be used to pay for student transportation to and from the facility if necessary, he said.

School Calendar

Lawrence presented his draft of the calendar for the 2022-2023 school year.

He noted that creating the school calendar was challenging, as state law requires the school year to include 180 days or 990 hours, and the first day of school can’t be before Labor Day.

The calendar includes a shorter Thanksgiving break but allows two full weeks around Christmas and the whole week after Easter.

Holidays include three school days for Thanksgiving, two weeks for winter break (Monday, Dec. 19, through Friday, Dec. 30), Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, one week for spring break (Monday, April 10, through Friday, April 14), and Memorial Day.

Teacher work days, on which students do not attend school, also are included in the calendar.

Next year’s high school graduation is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 10, 2023, and the last day of school is June 15.

New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday next year, so federal and state employees will get a paid holiday on Monday, Jan. 2, the same day Northampton students are scheduled to return to school.

Lawrence refrained from adding that day to winter vacation so the break would not exceed two weeks. However, he welcomed the school board to consider adding the extra day to the winter break.

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