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Boosting Student Attendance

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

Is your ESL program struggling to recruit or retain students throughout the school year? Here are some practical tips to help.


If God has called you to this ministry, then there are students He has for you to minister to. Take your group of volunteers and do a prayer walk or drive around the area, then debrief afterwards. As you do, God may put some new ideas in your mind or you may spot new opportunities that you hadn’t thought of before.

Enlist people at your fellowship to pray for your ministry. Not only will this lend needed support, but allow members of your church to feel ownership for your program. Take time to pray before or after your classes.

Build a team

Remember that anything that is worthwhile is going to take a lot of work, and will take time. The things that it will take to build momentum will require hours outside of ESL time each week. But you don’t have to do it alone! Invest time in building a team and finding ways to share the load together.

Start with your local congregation

Ask your pastor for opportunities to promote your program at your church. That might look like making an announcement during a service or to Sunday school classes or setting up a table in the foyer or information center. Your program will be much more successful if the congregation sees this as part of their ministry, not just yours. Don’t get discouraged if congregation members don’t seem interested at first. Developing a sense of ownership takes time and prayer and is not a given. However, passion is contagious!

Your students

Word of mouth is the best promotion! If your students love your program, they will be likely to invite others to join them! Give each student a stack of flyers or business cards to give to family or friends. You can also ask them to leave a stack (with permission) at local businesses they frequent where other immigrants needing your program’s services may frequent, also.

Local businesses and organizations

Scout the area around where classes are held for signs of populations from other countries. Visit ethnic businesses such as restaurants and ask if you can leave a stack of flyers there. (Half sheets may be better for this reason). Keep a few full-page copies with you and a roll of tape and tacks to put up posters where the owner allows or in places such as laundromat bulletin boards. This is also a great way to meet people in your community! Scout out other faith-based or non-profit organizations that provide other services to students and network.


Ask the schools near your program if you can give them flyers to distribute to the students at the school. If they distribute flyers from other outside organizations, non-discrimination means that they can, and in some cases, must also utilize yours. In some cases, the school may even print out the flyers FOR you. You may have to get permission from the district, but if you do, even better! This means that you will have access to the whole district!


If there is an apartment complex or community with a high concentration of immigrants and refugees, consider recruiting volunteers to provide transportation. If your church has large vehicles at your disposal, even better! Of course, you will need to advertise your services first, but consistency goes a long way too. Make sure to show up every week, even if no one catches a ride. Just being visible will remind potential students that you’re there.

Be sensitive to student’s needs and obstacles

If the classes are not meeting students needs, then they aren’t likely to come back. Some things to consider:

  • Are students being placed in the right level? Are the classes too easy or to hard for the students?

  • Are the class times good for most students?

  • Are they observing a special holiday that may make them absent a lot, for example, Ramadan? Look ahead for these obstacles so that you can come up with a plan before students start dropping out.

  • Is childcare provided? Do kids like the kids program and do they want to come back? (It is more often than not that the kids are bringing their parents!)