September is Attendance Awareness Month
OLYMPIA — SEPTEMBER 1, 2016 — During the 2014-15 school year, one out of every six students in Washington was absent at least 18 days. Each of those absences is a lost opportunity that brings the student closer to dropping out.
A nationwide effort is trying to help solve the problem: Attendance Awareness Month. Throughout September, events in more than 40 states, including Washington, will highlight efforts that schools and districts are doing to keep students in school and engaged.
“School exists to train people to be successful in life,” said Randy Dorn, superintendent of public instruction. “Employers want employees who show up every day, and they want employees who show up on time. Telling students that it’s OK to go to school sometimes but not others will only hurt them later in life.”
Dorn said that one of his chief priorities is to shine a light on chronic absenteeism. “For the past couple of years we’ve been able to look deeply into the data,” he said. “And that’s helping us see trends, which will help us solve the problem.”
Attendance is the responsibility of everyone, Dorn said. He praised the state Legislature, which in 2016 passed
Second Substitute House Bill 2449. The bill, among other things, requires the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop template letters. The letters include the following information:
- the benefits of regular school attendance;
- the potential effects of excessive absenteeism, whether excused or unexcused, on academic achievement, and graduation and dropout rates;
- the school's expectations of the parents and guardians to ensure regular school attendance by the child; the resources available to assist the child and the parents and guardians;
- the role and responsibilities of the school; and
- the consequences of truancy.
Getting communities involved
For Jake Alabiso, a school psychologist, intervention specialist and coach at Barnes Elementary School in Kelso, attendance is the most basic element in education. “We spend all this time on standards and on materials and on teaching strategies,” he said, “but if the kids don’t show up, none of those things matter.”
Alabiso said that students in the Kelso School District experience significant barriers, including transportation and homelessness. Combatting that is an effort of the entire community, not just the district or individual schools.
“We’re trying to connect with kids in different ways,” he said. “We’re engaging them on their level, so that school is interesting and they want to attend.”
For the third year in a row, Evergreen Forest Elementary School in Lacey is using the slogan, “In school, on time, all day, every day.” Principal Stephanie Hollinger said that the slogan is used every chance staff gets – in school announcements, newsletters and even assemblies.
“At Evergreen Forest, attendance is a key message with our students, staff and parents,” she said.
“Research has shown time and again that being in school is a key component to success in school and achievement,” Hollinger added. “We try to make it fun for the kids. Teachers do skits at assemblies to model getting up, getting ready and getting to school on time. We also do class rewards when all students are in class and on time.”
This coming year, Hollinger plans to harness social media to get the message out more to parents. “In addition, we are adding in a weekly spirit stick award to the class that has the highest on-time attendance rate for the week. Then, that class gets to carry the spirit stick through the halls for the next week for all to see. It should be fun to watch the results!”
About Attendance Awareness Month
Attendance Awareness Month began in 2013 by Attendance Works, a project of the national project of the Child and Family Policy Center. Throughout the month, OSPI will identify best practices and bright spots, as well as provide data and tools to address chronic absenteeism.
For more information
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine educational service districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.
OSPI provides equal access to all programs and services without discrimination based on sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. Questions and complaints of alleged discrimination should be directed to the Equity and Civil Rights Director at (360) 725-6162 or P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504-7200.
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