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School attendance: Does it matter?

Feb 27, 2017 10:49AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Tracy Hansen shows parents how important attendance is for students as young as kindergarteners. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com
 
Presenter Tracy Hansen impressed upon parents the importance of school attendance for their students. Her goal in presenting at the Granite Parent Leadership & Empowerment Conference on Jan. 21 was to motivate parents to get their kids to school each day.
 
“What might seem to be only a few absences a month is actually chronic absenteeism,” said Hansen.
 
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent, or about 18 days, in a school year, she said.
 
The habit of chronic absences is compounding. Hansen, who is a coach for MTSS (Multi-tiered System of Support for Student Interventions) at the district, showed studies illustrating how excessive absences in kindergarten are still affecting student performance three years later.
 
“Statistics show that when children are chronically absent, there are many serious implications, such as lower academic performance in math and reading, as well as lower graduation rates,” Hansen said.
 
Parents may not realize their actions are sending negative messages about attendance to their children. When parents schedule dentist appointments and vacations that take their children out of school, the kids may assume attendance is flexible. But time away from school has the same negative effects, no matter the reason, Hansen said.
 
A parent herself, Hansen understands it can be a struggle to get kids out of bed and to school on time. She also taught junior high for 25 years and said, “It’s worth the fight.”
 
Common obstacles to regular attendance were discussed in Hansen’s workshop. Parents agreed that morning chaos is a problem. They brainstormed ideas to make mornings run more smoothly—like having homework in the child’s school bag, lunches packed and clothes set out the night before. Children thrive with consistency, said Hansen, so she recommended routine bedtimes and waking times.
 
Hansen suggested parents find support systems. Parents can reach out to family members and neighbors to arrange backup options if transportation is a problem. There is also help through the school system.
 
“Don’t be afraid to bring the school in and develop supports,” Hansen said. “Teachers are willing to reach out and help when they know the situation.”
 
Parents may not understand what the problem is when kids say they don’t want to go to school, they don’t like school or that they don’t feel well enough to go to school. Parents and teachers can work together to find the reasons for these excuses. Hansen suggested working with schools to create solutions and incentives such as lunchtime clubs and interest-based activities that give these children something to look forward to at school. Hansen has had success asking a teacher or counselor to connect with a struggling child every day.
 
“Schools are starting to recognize that piece,” Hansen said “That someone needs to take notice that [the student] is there.”
 
One school employee said she was amazed by how many students need to have someone notice them to feel valued. She said that school is often their “safe place.”
 
For children who struggle with social skills, facing a day of feeling left out can be discouraging, Hansen said. Her solution is for parents to reach out to teachers, who understand developmental stages and who may be able to pair a child with a peer who knows how to befriend them.
 
Hansen reminded parents that their kids should be involved in the efforts and decisions for regular school attendance. She suggested they talk with their children about how their habits now can affect their future.
 
“The conversation is the change,” she said to parents looking for solutions.
 
She recommended parents use positive motivation, involving kids in the discussion of what extrinsic rewards they earn for good attendance for a period of time. Incentives can be a special outing with a parent, a treat or extra media time.
 
“You need to be consistent and reward efforts along the way,” Hansen said.
 
More information and tips for parents can be found at www.attendanceworks.org.
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