Attendance Matters

Good attendance matters.

I have come to realize, once again, just how much attendance matters. In our school, we try to encourage good attendance, but many of our students miss multiple days of school, or come in 30-45 minutes late almost daily.

This always baffles me, given what we hear about children in other countries, so desperate for an education, they will walk for miles to get to school.  When I hear the stories about these children who fight for their right to learn, it makes me sad that our children view it as a chore, not a privilege.  I picture those other children, seeing what our kids have available: school buses, schools with heating and lights, etc.  Not that all schools in the U.S. are spectacular, but they are the difference between attending college and not attending.  Or the difference between a well-paying job and a not-so-well-paying job.

Research tells us that students who miss 10% of the school year fall behind academically (which shouldn’t come as any kind of shock to a teacher!).  Obviously, if the student isn’t in the classroom, their learning will be negatively impacted.  In elementary school, lack of good attendance can lead to students not reading at grade level.  In middle school and high school, this kind of chronic absence can impact graduation.

Attendanceworks.org has a wealth of resources schools and teachers can use to improve school attendance.  I would definitely check out their website – it’s amazing how much they have available to help schools with improving attendance.

While I am not an expert, by any means, I do know what encouraging good attendance looks like in my own classroom.

Here is what I try to do:

First, I always talk to my students about the difference between “I don’t feel like coming to school” and “I feel too sick to come to school”.  This means having a frank discussion about the negative effects of absences.  I always make sure to restate that if they are truly sick, they should stay home, since we don’t want them to infect the rest of us.  However, often a sniffly nose will cause kids to think they should take the day off.  That’s the type of absence I’m trying to avoid.

Second, as a follow up to the Come to School discussion, I talk to them about getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food and drinking enough water.  Being a middle school teacher, some of my students are starting to stay up way too late and it causes them to not make it to school in the mornings.  Talking to them about going to bed on time can help some of them (it won’t solve everything, unfortunately!).

Third, I have found, if a student misses a second day of school, consecutively, making a phone call helps to get them back to school.  I call home the second day and inquire about the child, ask if he or she needs homework, and generally make a connection.  More times than not, the student comes back the next day.  If you have time, calling the first day a student is absent might be an even better solution.  Given the numbers of absences some of my students had, that would be hard to keep up with.

Finally, I started charting the class’ attendance on the board each day.  I listed it as a percentage and the students quickly started to notice.  They would comment on whether it was up or down and look to see who was missing.  Just making them aware of the absences helped some of them make attending school a priority.

Our school also recognizes perfect attendance each trimester with a pizza lunch.  Students are given a paper invitation for the luncheon and on the day, they get pizza, pop and mood music.  The kids really look forward to these lunches and talk about earning the invitation.  They’re always very excited to get their invitation.

What does your school do to encourage good attendance?

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