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School attendance matters

By Brian Harvey

The first day of school seems like it was just yesterday: it’s a day that can send parents and students on a rollercoaster of emotions.

That first day of school triggers a range of emotions for us all, but hopefully the emotions of joy, excitement and anticipation trump those of worry and sadness. Honestly, if we all — parents and students — were as excited about school every day as we are about the very first day of school, I believe we would not have an issue with school attendance.

Fall is the time when school officials look at school attendance numbers. We ask, “how many students are missing class?” and, “Why are they missing class?” Missing school on a regular basis — whether the absences are excused or unexcused — is known as having chronic absences. Chronic absences are a matter that can actually map out how your child will perform in school and in their adult life.

Showing up matters

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

Think about it: All of our efforts to improve curriculum and instruction won’t matter much if our kids are not in school.

If our kids miss out on school, we will never narrow the achievement gap or reduce our dropout rate. We have to bring the problem of chronic absence under control, and that means starting early.

By paying attention to absences now, early in the school year, we can turn around attendance and achievement. Paying attention early in a child’s academic career is important, too. Children in kindergarten who miss 10 percent of the school year can suffer academically. And these absences don’t just impact the students missing class: it slows down instruction for other students. Chronic absences make it harder for students to learn and teachers to teach.

So, if we help our students succeed, it will be hard to fail them. It’s worse if we don’t even try to help them succeed.

Did you know that our low-income students are the ones hit the hardest by chronic absences because they depend more on school for opportunities to learn? They are more likely to face systemic barriers to getting to school.

Students are more likely to go to school if they know someone cares whether they are showing up. Trusting relationships, whether they are with teachers, mentors, coaches or other caring adults, are critical to encouraging families and students to seek out help to overcome barriers that hinder attendance.

Must be present to win

Here lately you have probably been approached by a student asking you to purchase a ticket for a school fundraiser. Often on the ticket you purchase, it’ll say, “Do not have to be present to win.” In some fundraisers, you do have to be present to win.

That’s how I like to think about our kids, their academic achievement and classroom instruction. Our students must be present to win in the classroom and in life. Going to school every day matters for every student: they must be present to win.

Attendance matters to us all. When our schools graduate more students, on time, our communities and our economy are stronger. We have more people who are prepared for the workplace and more engaged in our community’s civic life.

Let’s work together to help all kids attend school today, so that they can achieve their tomorrow.

Brian Harvey is superintendent of the Oxford School District. Contact him at bharvey@oxfordsd.org.