It’s a new school year and I’d like to welcome students back to school with the same words I used to say to my own kids when they were younger: Learn everything.
I’ll also add this: Attend school regularly. That will make it possible for you to learn.
September is Attendance Awareness Month, a nationwide recognition of the fact that school attendance impacts academic achievement. It’s a time for schools and communities to promote good attendance and take steps to address the problem of chronic absence (missing 18 or more days during the school year).
Research tells us that missing school negatively impacts students’ learning. Here are some findings:
• Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read at grade level by the end of third grade.
• By sixth grade, chronic absence is a proven early warning sign for students at risk for dropping out of school.
• By ninth grade, good attendance is a predictor of not only graduation rates but also success in college.
An overarching goal of the Portland Public Schools’ Comprehensive Plan is that all our students graduate from high school prepared for college and career, but they can’t do that if they drop out. All too often, the path to dropping out begins in elementary school, and it starts with students not attending school.
Here in Maine, we are fortunate to have Count ME In partnering with school districts such as ours to address school attendance. Count ME In is a partnership of schools, youth, families, and the community, including businesses, state agencies and community organizations, working together to help children to learn and succeed.
Susan Lieberman, director of Count ME In, said, “I can’t emphasize enough that it’s a collective effort on everyone’s part to help kids attend school regularly.”
That’s why Count ME In is inviting everyone – educators, school officials, policy makers, businesses, families and community members – to its 2015 Fall Summit, which is titled: “Attendance Matters: Connecting for Student Success.” The event will take place on Oct. 29, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.
Hedy Chang, the director of Attendance Works, a national and state level initiative aimed at advancing student success by addressing chronic absenteeism, will be the keynote speaker. Chang, recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change, will talk about how families, communities and educators can support students and address attendance problems. Learn more about the conference at countmeinmaine.org.
When we say “chronic absenteeism,” it may sound as if we’re talking about students who miss weeks of school in a row. However, as Lieberman noted, it’s rarely the case that students are absent 18 days or more all at once. More typically, students miss two or three days per month, but that can quickly add up to missing a significant percentage of the school year.
According to Starting Strong, an early-age component of Portland ConnectED, a community-wide partnership of agencies and organizations that are committed to helping Portland youth succeed from cradle to career, research has found that one in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students nationwide miss almost a month of school each year. They can’t afford to lose that time, particularly in those early years when students are receiving crucial reading instruction.
Starting Strong’s top priority is to help children reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade and it says regular attendance at school is one of the key ways students can realize that goal.
Of course, some absences can’t be avoided due to health reasons or emergency circumstances. But when students miss too much school, whatever the reason, they can fall behind and get discouraged.
Families can help by conveying to their children that attending school is important. Show them that attendance matters to you.
Helping our students value attendance can not only help them succeed in school but later in life. The habits they learn now as youngsters will carry over to the jobs they get as adults.
This school year, let’s make sure our kids make the most of their opportunity to learn in school. The first step to that is ensuring they attend school.
Jeanne Crocker is interim superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.