Accounted For

Jacob McCleland / KRCU

Rhonda Dunham eases her way through the halls at Franklin Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Back in the day she was a student at Franklin.

Now she is the principal.

It’s quiet as Dunham strolls through the new, two-year-old facility. Very quiet. Most of the students are in their classrooms, studying away. Dunham slides up next to a pair of students who are taking a test in the hallway to see check their progress.

“Fine,” they respond in hushed voices as Dunham encourages them to do their best.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Melissa Schut drew out a problem on the white board at the front of her sixth-grade math class.  

Like she often does, Schut started with three questions.

“Where are you starting?” Schut asked.  “Where are you going? How are you going to get there?"

She paused to study the looks on students’ faces in her cozy classroom at Westview Middle School in Riverview Gardens.

“Go!” Schut said while clicking an electronic timer.

Jacob McCleland / KRCU

Principal Glenn Carter cracks open the door to an Algebra II class at South Pemiscot High School in rural Steele, Mo., where teacher Linda Crawford shuffles four reluctant students into different configurations. Students chuckle as Crawford gleefully moves her volunteers from place to place. One student, 11th grader Alli Jones, laughs and jots down a few careful notes with the rest of the class.

Last year, Jones probably wouldn’t have been here. She skipped school almost every week.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

This story is the first part of Accounted For, a project from St. Louis Public Radio with an assist from KRCU that explores the connection between chronic absenteeism - defined as missing three and a half weeks or more of school - and classroom success.

Riverview Gardens Superintendent Scott Spurgeon roamed the halls of Glasgow Elementary School.  On a recent morning the former minor league baseball player turned educator greets students like players entering a dugout.