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Community pulls together to help Bakersfield students get to school, and you can help

Activists and school officials are working together to help McKinley students in Bakersfield get excited about coming to school in an effort to combat rising rates of chronic absenteeism.
Posted: 6:14 PM, Aug 28, 2023
Updated: 2023-08-28 21:14:28-04
mckinley student walking home

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Students in Bakersfield just returned to school, and for many of them, walking is the only way they have to get to school. This is the case for some students at McKinley Elementary School in Bakersfield, where students who live within a mile and a half of the campus don't have access to the school bus.

That means the end of the school day at McKinley marks the beginning of many students' walks home.

"Obviously, there's no bus routes in this area due to where the school is positioned," said community activist Jovon Dangerfield.

Dangerfield says he tries to get more kids to come to school each day, and he intends to do that with something called Walk To School Day.

"We're trying to get community involvement to really get behind these kids, mobilize them, galvanize them, and get them excited to go to classes again," said Dangerfield.

School officials say that during the last school year, 45 percent of their students were chronically absent, meaning they missed 8 or more days in a school year. With 700 students enrolled, McKinley Vice Principal Whitney Dirkse says almost 350 students missed classes in 2022.

Dirkse cites the return to normalcy after the pandemic as one reason for the high rate of absences.

"It was hard to get everybody back into the swing of coming to school, and we have a lot of trauma in the neighborhood," said Dirkse. "We have a lot of families that are just struggling, and so sometimes getting their student here can be difficult."

Dirkse says she hopes the Walk To School Day events keep kids excited about attending classes and show parents that they're supported by the school.

"Our parents do so much and it's hard sometimes to think you have to do everything, so our hope is that we show them, as a school, we're here to support them and help them through every problem," said Dirkse.

Vice President of Marketing for Cognitive Center Karina Diaz plans to volunteer at the event on Friday to show the kids they aren't alone.

"I think we have to be excited, you know? It starts from the morning," said Diaz.

Diaz adds that she knows firsthand how some single moms and parents might be struggling to get their kids to class.

"I do that with my own kids. I make sure they wake up in a good mood, they're excited. I always give them positive feedback, 'Hey, we're going to learn today. We're going to have a great, positive attitude, be there for your friends,' and let them know that we're here to help them out," said Diaz.

At Friday's Walk To School Days event, there will be gifts for the students from Forge 103.9, and Dangerfield says they hope to host events like this regularly to help get kids excited about coming to school.

"I want to see a lot of kids with smiles and faces to say 'Wow, some really important people care about us and they're really here for us alone,' and I hope this will help them take their attendance seriously," said Dangerfield.

Dangerfield says they still need volunteers to help walk the students to school. Anyone interested in helping can call him, Jovon Dangerfield, at 631-5370 for more information.


With local schools working to increase attendance rates, we took an in-depth look at the statewide jump in students missing school after the pandemic.

According to a study conducted by Stanford University, the percentage of chronically absent students increased from the pre-pandemic rate of 12.1 percent in the 2018-19 school year to 30 percent in the 2021-22 school year.

Nationally, the number of students who were chronically absent since the pandemic nearly doubled to about 13.6 million, with 1.8 million of those chronically absent students in California.

"Chronically absent" means a student who misses at least 10 percent of the school year. 10 percent of the school year represents approximately one month of school.

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