Kids Need to Show Up to Grow Up: Attendance Matters

Kids Need to Show Up to Grow Up: Attendance Matters

More than 80 educators gathered last month at the University Downtown Center of CCPA’s Institute for Multigenerational Studies to listen to Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, discuss the mythologies surrounding attendance and what can be done to reverse absenteeism habits.

Increasingly, data is demonstrating that school attendance makes an enormous difference in terms of future academic success and parents need to understand that the drip, drip impact of a poor attendance record has lasting negative effects on their children.

It’s not just a matter of identifying which students are chronically absent. It’s also critically important to intervene as early as possible in specific, positive ways to reverse the trend and instill a sense of pride that students have in maintaining consistent attendance.

Ten percent seems to be the most important statistic when it comes to fighting school absenteeism.

  • 10 percent of school-aged children miss 10 percent of school each year; and
  • 10 percent is also the amount that President Obama and outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan seek to reduce student absenteeism each year.

For the past year, Broome County Promise Zone coordinators and interns, through its Community Schools model, have been working with local schools and families to develop policies and practices that reduce absenteeism and instill new habits and expectations about school attendance in Broome County.

“Attendance improves when schools, communities and families partner together to monitor chronic absence data, build a local culture of daily attendance and identify and address barriers to getting to class,” Chang said. “Reducing chronic absence can help significantly improve outcomes, especially for our most vulnerable children, and it increases students’ readiness for college and careers.”

Broome County Promise Zone is at the forefront of what has become a national priority. Tools and resources are available to help community partners and schools tackle chronic absenteeism, such as those offered by The National Mentoring Partnership, which will launch “the nation’s first-ever effort to bring a data-driven, evidence-based mentoring model to scale targeting chronically absent students in high-need communities.”

“Through this national initiative we are partnering with communities and providing tools to help our all of our young people attend school every day, so that they are learning the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school, careers and life,” Duncan said.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed those thoughts in announcing the Every Student Present campaign in September.

One of the challenges is how to educate parents as to the importance of consistent attendance. While attendance has long been tracked, it is only recently, through the support of Promise Zone, that Broome County schools have explored ways in which they can actively partner with parents to address habits of their children around attendance, starting as young as pre-kindergarten.

Education and communication help reveal these habits and enable parents to understand the impact of missing even two days a month (for reasons other than illness) on academic achievement of children in the long run. That process involves the entire family. Too many parents — and guardian grandparents — feel that four out of five days per week is acceptable attendance.

Luann Kida, community schools director of the Broome County Promise Zone and a member of the Institute for Multigenerational Studies, returned from a workshop in Cincinnati with Hedy Chang inspired to get Promise Zone involved in reforming the attendance policies of Broome County schools.

As a county-wide initiative, the Broome County Promise Zone helps to promote consistent attendance policies within the entire district which help parents to understand “the rules” — regardless of the age of their child.

Promise Zone coordinators looked at attendance data and came away with some specific proposals:

  • Chronic absenteeism was not the only problem; children with lower rates of attendance should not be ignored. Instead, focusing on those kids early on in their school experience should pay dividends later on.
  • Families need to be included in the conversation – it should be more about rewarding attendance than punishing absenteeism. That involves making home visits, engaging families in the process.

It turned out that parents have been very receptive to meeting with Promise Zone coordinators and interns who are seen as working with schools, not for schools.

To the surprise of some school administrators, parents were much more receptive to these engagements than predicted, and collaborative efforts to change behavior began to bear fruit.

During the 2014-15 school year, Binghamton schools saw reductions in absenteeism with a small cohort of students receiving support from Promise Zone. Using the reward and strengths approach and family engagement, attendance has improved as well as behavior and suspension rates with this small group. The pilot program is expanding in the 2015-16 school year.

Heidi Mikeska, Community Project Director for Broome County Promise Zone, noted it’s important to be proactive and not wait until a student’s rate of absenteeism is severe and chronic. Using evidence-based strategies to attack early and in small ways by noticing and rewarding any positive change, is the best approach she advised.

Recently, one high school student was given permission by her mother to quit school because the constant struggle to fit in and keep up academically was not working. Even after receiving her parent’s blessing to drop out, the student still showed up to Promise Zone to “hang out.” The result of that low-pressure contact with sympathetic coordinators and interns changed the course of her life. She is now back in school, determined to graduate, learning to advocate for herself and using support systems like Promise Zone to improve her grades.

The issue of chronic absenteeism is no longer an afterthought — as demonstrated by the high attendance of local educators at Chang’s talk.  These same educators have asked for continued support around this important issue.

The partnerships between the Broome County Promise Zone, Broome County students, their families, teachers and administrators demonstrate coordinated efforts to affect change.

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