Successful Students

Solving the Attendance Issue at Priority Schools

Starting next month, students from across the country will begin returning to school for a new academic year.

The challenge at many lower-performing priority schools is to get those students to keep returning, day after day.

Any educator at a priority school will tell you that each day of instruction is precious, especially when students have multi-year skills gaps that need to be addressed. But a recent discussion on the NEA Priority Schools Campaign Facebook page focused on how chronic student absenteeism often keeps educators from adequately helping the students who need the assistance most.

“This issue begins at kindergarten,” said Rosa Linda Samaniego- Ramirez, a kindergarten teacher from Carlesbad, NM. “Look at the student’s track record. From the day a student enters a classroom, we as educators have to stress the importance of attendance to the parents.”

In fact, a 2008 Arizona State University study found that dropout patterns were connected to poor attendance that often began in kindergarten. Once students reach high school, the number of days they are absent from school can mean the difference between graduating and dropping out.

According to researchers from the University of Chicago, 90 percent of Chicago public school students who missed less than a week of school per semester went on to graduate in four years. Students who missed between five and nine days only had a 63 percent graduation rate within four years – students who missed more than 10 days per semester went on to graduate in four years less than half the time.

It’s only logical that students who miss less school will be more likely to thrive academically and graduate. But the problem of chronic absenteeism has been a thorny one at many priority schools.

So, what’s the solution? Reaching out to parents and community groups is key, several discussion participants noted. Building relationships with the students themselves is also critical.

“We work on talking to every student,” said Dawn Michele Schmitt, an Iowa middle school teacher. “We even ‘adopt’ students who are especially quiet or difficult. Each teacher has certain kids they make a point of talking to each day. Let them know they are missed if they were gone … Let them know you notice them and they matter.”

The availability of before-school programs can also make a difference in reducing absenteeism, according to Nora Howley of the National Education Association’s Health Information Network. Howley points out that school breakfast programs can boost attendance and improve academic achievement and behavior.

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PSC Superhero Keith G. Pemberton

Keith G. Pemberton is a social worker at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point, N.C., where he has built a strong and steady pipeline for parental involvement, specifically among fathers and male mentors. Check out his Classroom Superhero profile and leave some words of encouragement.

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