Did you know that missing just 10% of the school year in the early grades can leave many students struggling throughout elementary school? Or that by 6th grade, missing that much school is strongly linked to course failure and even eventually dropping out of high school? That’s just 18 days — or two to three days per month. Every school day counts, and everyone can make a difference: educators, afterschool programs, community members, and parents.
Every year, as many as 7.5 million students nationwide are chronically absent, meaning they miss ten percent or more of the school year for any reason, excused or unexcused. That level of absenteeism predicts poor academic performance as early as kindergarten and is a warning sign that a high school student will drop out. The good news is that chronic absence can be reduced when schools work with families and communities to debunk common myths about attendance, build a culture of going to school or preschool every day and address barriers to getting to class. Parents and families are essential partners in promoting good attendance because they, ultimately, have the bottom-line responsibility for making sure their children get to school every day. When children are young, they are especially dependent upon adults or older siblings to help them get to school or preschool. Just as parents should focus on how their children are performing academically, they have a responsibility to set expectations for good attendance and to monitor their children’s absences, so that missed days don’t add up to academic trouble.
To carry out this responsibility, however, parents need to be equipped with the right information so they are not unwittingly falling into traps created by common and pervasive myths about attendance. For example, many of us view good attendance as a matter of complying with rules. We don’t recognize that good attendance is really a matter of providing children more and better opportunities to learn. We think that missing school is a problem only if a child was skipping school without permission. We don’t see that too many absences, even if they are excused, can hinder learning. In fact, just two or three absence a month can add up to too much lost time in the classroom. While some absences, especially those due to illness, may be unavoidable, it is important to get children to school as often as possible. Another myth is that attendance matters mostly for older students in middle or high school. We don’t recognize the adverse impact that poor attendance can have on learning as early as preschool or the importance of building a habit of good attendance from the beginning.
At every level, parent and family engagement is a key component of effective, comprehensive approaches to reducing chronic absence. All of us – schools, preschools, community agencies and parents themselves – can make a difference by engaging and helping families to nurture a habit of regular attendance so they can help their children realize their hopes and dreams.
“What Can I Do?”
Getting your child to school on-time, every day, unless they are sick, is something that you can do to ensure your child has a chance to succeed in school. While others can help, you are the bottom line. You can promote good attendance when you:
- Establish and stick to the basic routines (going to bed early, waking up on time, etc.) that will help your child develop the habit of on-time attendance.
- Talk to your child about why going to school every day is critical and important unless they are sick. If your child seems reluctant to go to school, find out why and work with the teacher, administrator or afterschool provider to get them excited about going to school.
- Come up with back up plans for who to turn to (another family member, a neighbor or fellow parents) to help you get your child to school if something comes up (e.g. another child gets sick, your car breaks down, etc.).
- Reach out for help if you are experiencing tough times (e.g. transportation, unstable housing, loss of a job, health problems) that make it difficult to get your child to school. Other parents, your child’s teacher, principal, social worker, school nurse, afterschool providers or counselor can help you problem solve or connect you to a needed resource.
- If your child is absent, work with the teacher to make sure she or he has an opportunity to learn and make up for the academics missed.
Check out www.attendanceworks.org for additional resources and information that may be of benefit to you. Much of the information compiled in this publication was derived from this resource, as there is a wealth of information families can utilize. I hope that you find this informative as we continue to engage in an ongoing partnership to ensure learning for all students at Fernbrook Elementary.