Improving attendance is a new project for me this year, in part because the problems are worse or at least more noticeable this year, in part because it has been identified as something our school needs to work on to keep up with our peer group of schools. Of course, it’s not just to look good in the peer group that we need to focus on this, it’s because improving attendance should help the kids in multiple ways. I firmly believe that inertia is a force that can work for you: once a kid gets in the habit of attending school, it becomes easier to attend than to stay home. Grades improve, success builds on success, friendships become stronger, relationships with teachers improve, and the reasons to attend begin to outweigh the reasons to cut.
Here’s what it looks like so far: most of our kids have missed no school at all or just a day or two in the last two months. A smaller, middle group has missed several days in the last two months, more than is really appropriate. And a very small group (<5 students) has missed many days, some attending as little as 50%. Clearly, a three-pronged approach is in order – reward, recognize, and reinforce the behavior of those who attend regularly; bring on board the families (and the students themselves) in the middle group; intensive focus on underlying problems in the third group. But, um, how? We’ve already started zeroing in on the reasons behind the low attendance of the chronic absentees, and oh boy is it going to be an uphill battle getting these kids in school regularly, what with all the health issues and family problems and the lack of a going-to-school-everyday-habit. And what do we do with the middle group?
If you know of schools that have tried innovative approaches to attendance, or studies of such schools, please let me know! We need creative ideas!