Mornings during the school year are chaos at our house, and there are many times when it would be easier to turn off the alarm and just let us all stay in bed for the day. However, like most parents, I value the education of my children and therefore drag myself out of bed to ensure I am doing my part by sending them to school on time. The “on time” part is frequently a challenge. My daughter is always eager to get to school, see her friends, and learn something new. My son, on the other hand, loves to learn but has some challenges both educationally and socially that make school feel like a constant battle.
For many Kentucky families and educators, getting kids to school on time and keeping them engaged is an ongoing challenge. We also know missing school is important in terms of lost instructional hours, classroom disruption, social interaction, and educational accomplishment. Increased absences are linked to lower academic achievement, grade retention, and high school dropout—whether they are excused or not. Chronic absenteeism is frequently defined as missing ten percent or more days in a school year, and in School Year 2012-2013 Kentucky had over 76,000 chronically absent K-12 students in public schools.
September is Attendance Awareness Month, and we want to make sure kids are present and ready to learn for their social, emotional, and educational well-being. Kids miss school for a variety of reasons, and it is important to understand those reasons to fully appreciate the complexity of attendance problems so we can find the best ways to provide supports when needed. The causes of absenteeism occur at the student, family, school, and community levels.
Some children miss school simply because they cannot attend for reasons such as illness, family events, or housing instability. Some children, like my son, do not want to attend because of problems such as bullying, harassment, or embarrassment over a disability or other personal reason. Then there are children who simply do not attend school because they do not see the value in it. When we address these issues in coordinated efforts toward better attendance, we can create more opportunities for students to succeed.
So how do we get every student to show up on-time for school? Students’ sense of responsibility and motivation vary by age and development, but research tells us the earlier and more consistently kids attend school, the more engaged they are in the learning process over the years. Parents value their children’s education, so by openly expressing these values and encouraging student attendance, they model the behavior of school as a priority. Parents, schools, and communities can provide incentives to encourage attendance and student engagement in the learning process. Instead of punishing absenteeism, resources can be devoted to understanding and mitigating the causes.
In my own home, helping my son want to go to school has been an ongoing challenge. The first step has been communication – talking with his teachers, guidance counselor, literary coach, and principal has helped ensure we are all working to make sure my son is successful. Working with school officials, we have developed an attendance plan to prioritize our goals and resources. Individual learning plans and a literacy coach help him be a more confident learner, while regular group meetings with the guidance counselor assist him in meeting his social and emotional goals. Additionally, as a part of this plan, on extremely difficult mornings we have the ability to contact the school for additional staff assistance, if needed.
Most importantly, students and parents need to understand the direct link between current school work and future life success. This is a conversation we have often at the dinner table, as I attempt to ensure we make education a priority in our home. It may always be a challenge, but like most parents, I love my children and want them to succeed – I know education is the pathway to achieving that goal.
Everyone—not just caregivers and students—plays a role in ensuring that children can and want to attend school regularly. Learn more about what you can do with these resources from Attendance Works and help spread the word with this infographic.