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In Rhode Island, more than a quarter of high school students are already considered chronically absent, missing two days or more per month. Those are the kids at risk for dropping out, and they’re the kids, three weeks into the closure, that teachers are trying to find. 

They’re the ones that aren’t logging on to their online classes, responding to calls, or answering emails from school staff. They’re the students that teachers have always been concerned about.

“People don’t just stay home to play hooky, truancy is more of a symptom than the problem,” said Diana Clarkin, who deals with attendance and truancy issues for the East Providence schools. “It could be the littlest thing, like not knowing the right time school started to something more like ‘we're living in a shelter at this point in time.’”

Clarkin has almost a dozen students she’s been unable to locate during distance learning.

For the last three weeks, she’s been organizing teams of people--from guidance counselors to social workers -- the district doesn’t use truancy officers -- to look for students. It begins with phone calls, texts and emails. Eventually, someone tries to check for the student at their home.

“I don't know what they're doing, and hope they're doing what they're supposed to be doing,” said Clarkin. “But you don't know where they are for at least the six hours that you had your eyes on them during the day.”

In nearby Central Falls, the schools are taking a similar approach. Teachers are using a spreadsheet to keep track of kids no one has been able to contact. 

Last week, David Upegui, a science teacher at the high school estimated the number on the list was close to 100. Upegui says part of the problem is that distance learning is hard, as he’s been hearing from some of the students he advises.

“I heard from a couple of my students ‘I'm not doing that work because I don't get it.’,” Upegui said. “And if they don't feel comfortable with a teacher to begin with, it's difficult to then write an email to the teacher saying, ‘I don't get this.’”

Upegui himself still has one student he had not been able to locate at all. 

“I don't even know how to describe this sort of frustration that I don't know how to do better for that child, for those children that are disengaged,” Upegui said.

At the beginning of the shutdown, it was easier to reach students -- the stay at home order had not been implemented yet, and people were still travelling a bit more freely. 

In the days after schools were closed, reading specialist Latoya Watts spent days trying to contact one of her students. 

“I was a little worried this morning when I tried calling him and he didn't pick up the phone,” Watts said on a weekday at the end of March. “Because he's one of those kids that if he goes off the radar, that's a little concerning.”

Watts works at the Met School in Providence, an independent public high school in the city. And she was worried about one student in particular.

Watts is teaching her students primarily online -- using video conferences and flashcards to help kids sound out words. The student she’s worried about is an upperclassman Watts first met when he was in ninth-grade.  Watts began working with him regularly. What she found was a young person who struggled both academically and socially.

“When he started, he was a hoodie up,if you saw his eyes, you saw a lot,” said Watts. “And now he's definitely out of his shadow, he's talking more.”

But for the first week and a half of the school closures, she wasn’t able to find him at all. There are students like hers in districts across the state. 

At the beginning of the shutdown, it was easier to reach students -- the stay at home order had not been implemented yet, and people were still travelling a bit more freely. 

Watts was eventually able to contact her student. She convinced him to stop by her home, to do some laundry and chat about the work she’d like him to do during the school closure. 

It’s the kind of important, but casual, conversation that’s hard to replicate with distance learning, and vital -- Watts says -- to keep some students engaged.

“As teenagers, it's easy for you to think like, it's just me against the world when there are so many people that are checking in on you, whether you realize it or not,” Watts said. “And for him, I had to just, you know, keep reminding him of that.”

Which she did, even if it meant giving him a place to do his laundry. That was before the stay-in-place orders put a stop to those kinds of visits. Now, she worries distance learning is putting him farther behind.

What schools are worried about is that some of these kids will just leave the system entirely. In a normal year, kids at risk are more likely to drop out than their peers. This is anything but a normal year.