They’re baaaack – at school. Many parents, myself included, are very happy that the new school year has commenced. Although summer will be missed, costly summer camps, fluctuating schedules and restless children will not. For working parents, school is the best place for their kids to be. My mom worked nights and was thrilled to have all seven of her children at school so she could sleep. As a result, we didn’t miss much school.
It turns out, that was a very good thing. Absenteeism is a clear-cut predictor of a bleak educational future, which – no surprise – leads to less than ideal career opportunities. By 6th grade chronic absenteeism (missing 10 percent or approximately 18 days of school) has a direct correlation to students dropping out of high school. By 9th grade, missing 20 percent of the school year is a better predictor of dropping out than test scores.
The good news is the converse is also true, especially for children raised in poverty. One of the most effective strategies for providing pathways out of poverty is to do what it takes to get kids to school on time, every day. This alone, even without all the school improvement efforts, will drive up achievement, increase high school graduation rates, and raise college completion percentages.
There are a plethora of reasons why students miss school, but for simplicity we can break them down to three broad categories: students who cannot attend school due to illness; housing instability or other poverty related problems; students who will not attend to avoid bullying, harassment, or embarrassment; and students who do not attend school because they, or their parents, do not see the value in being there and no one stops them from not attending.
So, what can we do? Get the word out. Bring up the importance of attendance at PTA meetings, back-to-school night, and any time you have an audience of parents. Discuss with administrators the climate of the school. Make sure there are positive discipline policies in place and a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.
Help your kids maintain daily routines – going to bed and waking up around the same time. Don’t let your child stay home unless he or she is truly sick. Complaints of headaches or stomachaches may be signs of anxiety. If so, talk to them and their teachers about school behavior and academic engagement. Ask for help from teachers, administrators, afterschool programs, or other parents if you’re having trouble getting your child to school. Maintain open communication with school staff by making sure they know how to contact you and vice versa.
Know your children’s friends. Peer pressure can lead to skipping school and students without friends can feel isolated. Keep track of when your child misses school. The number of days missed can sneak up on you.
The bottom line is, attending school matters greatly. It matters most to students who live in poverty. Chronic absenteeism is a key determiner of high school graduation and continuing on to college. If chronic absenteeism is not measured, it cannot be monitored or acted upon so make sure your school is tracking attendance and ask what incentives there are for students to come to school every day, on time. As a community, it is imperative to ensure that our kids are ready, willing and able to attend school every day. Their future, and hence our future, depends on it.
Contact Margaret Lavin at firstname.lastname@example.org.