McKinley Elementary combats low attendance rates with Walk to School event

September 1, 2023 /

McKinley Elementary School students, parents, guardians, and teachers were welcomed to class by Bakersfield High School’s (BHS) cheer team and community volunteers. Friday was a Walk to School event that encouraged students to come to school while gaining community awareness regarding the lack of bus routes to take participating students to school like many other Bakersfield elementary schoolers utilize. 

Mary Haynes, a BHS cheer coach, was in attendance along with two other BHS coaches. They stated it was their second year volunteering at the event. For the cheer coaches, it was exciting to see the elementary students arrive at school on time while also providing an opportunity for the cheer team to be positive role models for the younger classes.

Last school year, the community surrounding McKinley Elementary School came together to organize the event for the first time. It instantly garnered town-wide attention, and it helped raise attendance. Many students told organizers that the events encouraged them to go to school. 

The main reason for the continued Walk to School event was to show the issues students face when they don’t have bus routes, struggles with post-pandemic circumstances, and how difficult it can be for some families to make the mile– two-mile walk to school.  

Jovon Dangerfield is a Media Personality for Forge 103.9 FM and a recognized community activist. As the executive director for Transitional Youth Mobilizing for Change (TYM4Change), Dangerfield is able to connect to youth and be a catalyst for community collaboration.

In a written statement, Dangerfield stated that last year, McKinley Elementary School saw the number of chronically absent students rise to 44.5 percent, with around seventy-five students a day not in school. This new school year has been less than two weeks, and over 200 students have missed at least one day of school so far.

“This is something that is really encouraging the kids to take attendance seriously,” Dangerfield continued.

Dangerfield helped McKinley Elementary School’s Vice Principal Whitney Dirkse in replicating the success of the first event. Exciting elements included prizes like Six Flags Magic Mountain tickets. 

“Last time there were kids- one kid was saying this was the best day of his life. He was saying he was going to come every day,” recalled Dangerfield.

Mckinley Elementary School families can start advocating for solutions by forming a focus group composed of family, administrators, and community members who have an interest or specialization in education, according to Dangerfield. 

“I think we come together and have a focus group, and we will talk about some of the barriers and how we want to combat them from a team perspective. Understanding any budget issues that exist with boards and faculties, understanding deeply about how funding is released. What logistical issues exist in these neighborhoods- that matters too,” stated Dangerfield. 

Dangerfield told Kern Sol News that the main goal of his activism is to bring diverse people and perspectives together. He finds value in speaking to individuals through panels, forums, boards, organizations, nonprofits, and any groups that bring people together. 

Brenda Ramirez, a Bakersfield City School District employee, was able to attend both Walk to School events. 

“[This event] increases our student’s attendance, and that’s what we want to promote this year. We want them to be here every single day. This is why I’m here… I tell them I’m here every day because I want to see you every day,” Ramirez said.

Last year, at the first event, Ramirez was able to walk as a volunteer aid, which meant she walked the mile or so to escort groups of McKinley students safely to school. She remarked that more parents and community members got involved this year.

“The first time I walked. We didn’t have that many parents and that many students, but here today, I’m like, wow. It has increased by a lot, and it’s amazing,” Ramirez continued. “I’m looking forward to doing this- hopefully, we’re able to do this every month.”

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