Students who travel through unsafe areas miss more school

Students who travel through unsafe areas miss more school

(Md.) Students who must travel though high-crime areas on their commute to school are more likely to be absent from school, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The average high school freshman in Baltimore went to school in a neighborhood where 87 violent crimes were reported during the academic year, but lived in a neighborhood where 95 violent crimes happened during the same time period, according to a new study.

At the same time, students pass streets on public transit where 41 violent crimes happened and passed streets on foot where there were 27 such crimes.

Students whose best, or most straightforward route required walking or waiting for a bus in areas with higher violent crime rates were found to have higher rates of absenteeism throughout the year.

“Having to travel through dangerous streets is leading kids to miss school,” Julia Burdick-Will, Johns Hopkins sociologist and lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Not showing up for school has important academic consequences and students who must prioritize their own personal safety over attendance have a clear disadvantage.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 20 percent of students in high school are chronically absent nationally.

Research has long shown that students who are chronically absent are likely to have lower test scores and limited proficiency in both reading and math. Even as early as sixth grade, chronic absenteeism has been identified as an indicator that a student will later drop out of high school.

Students in Illinois faced some similar problems with crime along student commutes, prompting lawmakers to pass a bill to provide transportation for students living only a short distance from their school if there is a pattern of criminal activity in their area.

Previously, free transportation for students was provided only to those who lived more than 1.5 miles from school–although there were exceptions made for children whose routes had traffic hazards.

The bill’s author noted at the time that after implementing a similar program, Chicago Public Schools saw a 7 percent increase in overall attendance.

That district had also recently taken other measures to ensure student safety on their commutes to and from school. For instance, district leaders expanded a collaborative city effort that provides for approved community organizations to monitor locations that are known trouble points for violent crime, fights or drug use in order to deter potential criminal activity along a handful of paths commonly taken by students before and after class.

Burdick-Will noted that part of the problem in urban areas like Baltimore stems from the fact that many districts are cutting back on traditional “yellow-bus” chartered transportation systems due to cost, and are instead relying on public transportation systems to get kids to school.

She found that, on average, students in the sample were estimated to take approximately 36 minutes to get to school. Many were estimated to require a transfer, which resulted in an average of 1.8 stops–though some children had to get to as many as four separate stops between two buses. Only around 8 percent of students were estimated to walk to school without taking public transit.

Johns Hopkins researchers determined the most efficient route to school for 4,200 first-time freshmen enrolled in Baltimore City public high schools during the 2014-15 school year using transportation networks and schedules provided by the Maryland Transit Administration. They then linked the specific streets along the most efficient routes to incident-level crime data from the Baltimore Police Department.

Researchers found that students whose estimated routes require walking along streets with higher violent-crime rates also had higher rates of absenteeism throughout the year. When walking along paths where violence exposure doubled, for instance, they predicted an approximately 6 percent increase in absenteeism, which translates to an additional day of absence.

According to authors of the study, students must weigh the incremental benefit of one more day at school against the possibility of real physical injury or death on the way there. Many children, they said, may opt to stay home, or take safer but longer-than-necessary route to school.

Others, meanwhile, may catch a ride to a safer bus stop with a friend or relative–an option Burdick-Wills explained can have its own pitfalls.

“What if the closest bus stop isn’t safe and you need a ride to a farther stop. Then what if what ride falls through? Do you risk it or walk really far or do you just not go to school,” Burdick-Wills said. “Missing an extra day of school a year doesn’t sound like a lot but these things add up.”

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