Ten to Teen: Every School Day Counts

By Heidi Arthur
Principal, March/April 2013

A seventh grader is too tired to go to school because she stays up late play­ing video games. A sixth grader convinces his mom to let him skip class because of problems with a school bully. An eighth grader’s family schedules a vacation to start two days before spring break begins. Whatever the reason, chronic absenteeism puts a child’s academic performance and high school graduation at greater risk. Educators need to make it clear to students and par­ents that every school day matters.

Effects of Absenteeism
Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days in a given year, or about 18 days, affects the educational outcomes of nearly 7.5 million U.S. students. Research shows that the negative effects of absenteeism begin to take hold even in the early years. Accord­ing to a report by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organiza­tion of Schools, chronic absenteeism begins to rise during middle school, and continues to grow as school years progress. As early as sixth grade, miss­ing 18 or more days of school in a year puts a child’s high school graduation at risk. Being absent for just two days every month of the school year can allow a child to fall behind, increasing the likelihood of dropping out.

Students with regular attendance are more likely to read well by the critical third-grade milestone, score higher on standardized tests, gradu­ate high school, and go to college than students who are chronically absent. Principals dealing with atten­dance problems at their school know that it has a huge impact on academic performance. Despite this, reducing chronic absenteeism remains a diffi­cult task. Principals can adopt several strategies and tap into resources to help combat school absences.

Effective Strategies

  • Communication is a powerful tool for dealing with attendance problems. Research has shown that many parents fail to see a correlation between their child’s attendance prior to high school and the impact this behavior has on their futures. Educate parents and guardians on the consequences of long-term absenteeism in school and encourage them to be more proactive in ensuring their child’s attendance. Use the resources at BoostUp.org, a joint venture between the U.S. Army and the Ad Council, which hosts a multimedia series of public service advertise­ments that stress the importance of going to school every day.
  • Messaging targeted to students is also critical. An attendance cal­culator, courtesy of Get Schooled (getschooled.com), can enable students to chart the impact of their absences on their educational futures. But students shouldn’t attend only because their academic success depends on it—school should be a place they want to go to every day. Get Schooled also offers celebrity wake-up calls from nota­ble actors, athletes, and musicians to get kids excited to attend.
  • In areas where being at school isn’t a priority, convincing students and their families it should be requires innovative strategies. Research has shown that students who partici­pate in after-school programs are less likely to be absent. A report by the University of Minnesota found students in an after-school program attended 18 more days of school, and missed nine fewer than their peers. Every minute spent well outside school means more min­utes spent in school. Partner with your community to develop and strengthen these programs to ensure your students spend their time in fun and safe environments.

A Principal’s Role
For a middle school student, graduat­ing from high school may seem to be light years away. As a principal, you know that it’s just around the corner. There are countless ways to improve a student’s education, but those efforts don’t count for much if he or she isn’t even at school.

Chronic absenteeism creates huge obstacles for a student’s current and future success. What your students do today will impact them for years to come. Through continued support and engagement of their parents, throughout the school year, prin­cipals can help ensure parents are aware of their child’s attendance. Together, principals and parents can inspire and motivate students so they will stay in school and graduate from high school.

Heidi Arthur is senior vice president and group campaign director of the Ad Council


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