Showing up to promote school attendance

It’s been said that the first step to success is showing up and nowhere is that more true than in our schools.

Chronic absenteeism – defined as missing 10 percent of the school year (18 days here in Maine) – increases achievement gaps and decreases student outcomes. Absences add up quickly. In fact, students who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and are more likely to have poor attendance in later grades. By middle and high school, chronic absence is a proven early warning sign that a student will not graduate on time or even at all. Chronic absenteeism especially hurts children with disabilities or from low income families who are both more likely to miss school and who often lack the resources to make up for lost time in the classroom.

This September marks the second annual Attendance Awareness Month. This nationwide event brings attention to the connection between school attendance and academic achievement while mobilizing schools and communities to promote the value of good attendance and take concrete steps toward reducing chronic absence.

Attendance Awareness Month and back to school season provide Maine districts an opportunity to do what is consistently seen as most effective in combating chronic attendance: educating parents.

Susan Lieberman of Count ME In suggests schools send a strong message from the start about the importance of attendance, through school websites, newsletters, brochures, letters home, parent teacher conferences and open houses. By communicating that every school day counts, parents may be less likely to schedule routine doctor or dentist appointments during school hours, drop their children off late or head out on family vacations when school is in session.

Count ME In is a partnership of Maine schools, businesses, parents, youth, state and community organizations working to improve student attendance, engagement and academic achievement through data driven strategies so all children can learn and succeed. Its website, www.countmeinmaine.org, provides free resources for promoting the importance of showing up to school, including templates, fact sheets and checklists.

If students are missing school, it’s important to work with families to better understand the reason. Developing individual action plans with the families of chronically absent students has also proven successful in getting kids to show up. Lieberman encourages schools to use real-time data to monitor when chronic absence is a problem and work with families and the community to identify and solve barriers to getting children to school. Chronic absence can be reduced when schools, community agencies and families work together to build a habit of attending school every day and to reduce barriers to school attendance, she says.

That’s been the case in southern Maine, where a multi-district consortium has been working together to boost daily attendance in their schools. As part of our school improvement webinar series released last spring, we examined their efforts in a short webinar I’d encourage you to review this month entitled Attendance Matters: Lessons Learned.

You are doing incredible things to inspire student learning in your schools. Let’s make sure our children are there to benefit.

For more information about attendance and strategies, visit http://www.countmeinmaine.org and http://www.attendanceworks.org or contact Susan Lieberman at slieberman@countmeinmaine.org.

One thought on “Showing up to promote school attendance

  1. “September marks the second annual Attendance Awareness Month…”
    This would have been a more effective commentary if it had been released toward the beginning of September, not on the 25th.

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