From USD 428…
The opening days of school conjure up images of backpacks stuffed with notebooks and unsharpened pencils, bulletin boards freshly decorated by teachers, and students showing off new
clothes to old friends. But even in these early days of the new school year, some students already are heading toward academic trouble: They’re missing too many days of school.
Across the country, nearly 8 million students miss nearly a month of school every year—absences that can correlate with poor performance at every grade level. This trend starts as early as kindergarten and continues through high school, contributing to achievement gaps and ultimately to dropout rates. In our community, attendance rates reported in 2018 were 92.7, falling short
of the State average of 94.5.
This year, our school district is celebrating the Attendance Awareness Campaign, part of a nationwide movement intended to convey the message that every school day counts. We can’t afford to think of absenteeism as simply an administrative matter. Good attendance is central to student achievement and our broader efforts to improve schools. All of our investments in curriculum and
instruction won’t amount to much if students aren’t showing up to benefit from them.
Problems with absenteeism start surprisingly early: National research shows that one in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students are chronically absent, meaning that they miss 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days of instruction, because of excused and unexcused absences.
Chronic absence can have consequences throughout a child’s academic career, especially for those students living in poverty, who need school the most and are sometimes getting the least. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiently by third grade, and students who don’t read well by that critical juncture are more likely to struggle in school. They are also more likely to be chronically absent in later years, since they never developed good attendance habits.
By middle school, chronic absence becomes one of the leading indicators that a child will drop out of high school. By ninth grade, it’s a better indicator than how well a student did on eighth grade tests.
Chronic absence isn’t just about truancy or willfully skipping school. Instead, children stay home because of chronic illness, unreliable transportation, housing issues, bullying or simply because their parents don’t understand how quickly absences add up—and affect school performance. After all, 18 days is only two days a month in a typical school year. This is true whether absences are excused or unexcused, whether they come consecutively or sporadically throughout the school year.
So how do we turn this around?
“A key step is reminding families about the critical role they play in getting children to school on time every day,” said Khris Thexton, USD 428 superintendent. “Parents or caregivers can help develop the habit of good attendance by enforce bedtimes and other routines, as well as avoiding vacations while school is in session.”
Within USD 428 buildings and classrooms, teachers also reinforce these messages and, when they can, offer fun incentives for those students who show the best attendance or most improvement. Businesses, faith leaders, and community volunteers can also convey this message.
“Our building principals monitor attendance numbers closely,” said Thexton. “We want to know how many students have a high rate of absenteeism, who they are, and do our best to understand why.”
At Great Bend High School, Karla Martinez, attendance and behavior interventionist, is working to address chronic absenteeism. Starting her fourth year in the position, Martinez’s focus is shifting slightly from discipline to intervention. Instead of automatic In School Suspension after an unexcused absence, students will now spend a week in lunch detention in Martinez’s office.
“The goal of the intervention is to develop a relationship with the student and to get to the root cause of why the student is missing school,” said Martinez. “Now that students know who I am and what I do in my position, I’m optimistic that interventions will start to address and overcome some of the issues that prevent students from getting to school every day.”
But schools can’t do this alone.
Building a strong foundation for learning and life requires the help of the whole community. Opening conversations and expanding partnerships health care providers, non-profit agencies, volunteers, and the business community are a necessary factor to come-up with solutions. Volunteers from businesses, faith-based groups, and nonprofits can provide that extra shift of adults we
need to mentor chronically absent students and reach out to parents.
The community is encouraged to think about what they can do within their own family and or neighborhood to help get more kids to school. USD 428 invites you to join in the effort to make every day count.
Additional information and resources can be found at www.greatbendschools.net. Questions can also be directed to the USD 428 District Education Center at 620-793-1500.