The staff of Oakhurst Elementary has tackled the challenges of attendance head on, stressing the advantages of being in school and staying engaged either in person or virtually. That commitment rings true throughout the campus and community.
“We have consistent and open communication with our families concerning attendance issues,” Oakhurst Principal Guadalupe Cortez said. “We are grateful to have additional community partners to support us with home visits for students who have persistent absences. We also reiterate to our families the educational value and benefits associated with being on time, as well as present.”
Ms. Cortez has served as Oakhurst principal since 2011 and started in Fort Worth ISD in 1997. She’s a proud product of FWISD, and prior to joining Oakhurst was a teacher, literacy coach and math coach at Sam Rosen Elementary, and an Assistant Principal at W.J. Turner Elementary.
Keeping an open mind and remaining sensitive to the needs of Oakhurst families during the pandemic has proven to be a daunting task, Ms. Cortez said. Many of families are focused on their basic needs and survival, with school attendance not always a top priority, she added.
Oakhurst’s challenges include engaging virtual students and increasing parental engagement among virtual students. The state mandates that virtual students meet their academic goals.
“To address these issues, we have conducted home visits and provided multiple resources to address the barriers which are impeding attendance,” Ms. Cortez said. “We have strongly encouraged parents of virtual students who are not engaged to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible, so that academic expectations are met.”
Oakhurst is supported by My Health My Resources outreach team as a part of Read Fort Worth’s Porch Visits collaborative, an initiative that connects community partners and volunteers with families to promote FWISD attendance and enrollment, along with additional support. Porch Visits began last summer when volunteers visited around 1,000 students’ homes to provide resources and promote enrollment. Volunteers also delivered backpacks with grade-level appropriate instructional activities to students.
Ms. Cortez believes that good attendance is vital to student success because students must be present to receive instruction. Analysis of 2020-21 MAP Growth data for FWISD 3rd grade students shows that students with higher attendance rates outperformed their peers with lower attendance rates on literacy achievement.
Oakhurst teachers and staff constantly remind students to come to school every day. They also offer incentives and celebrate students for excellent attendance throughout the year. Ms. Cortez and her staff have worked diligently to create a positive atmosphere for learning that students want to be a part of.
“Students enjoy the hands-on lessons that our teachers prepare,” Ms. Cortez said. “We have built trusting relationships amongst students, staff and families. Our school is considered a safe place for many of our students. Students also enjoy the social interaction with their peers.
“Lastly, I dare say that the vast majority of our teachers perceive teaching as more than a ‘job’ but rather a calling or vocation. We have built and maintain a community whereby a high percentage of our staff bring their own children to be educated by their peers. If it wasn’t a healthy learning environment, they wouldn’t bring them to Oakhurst.”