By Kathy Ehman
September is an exciting time and the beginning of the school year with students and teachers coming together to learn and grow in the school environment. September is also Attendance Awareness Month as designated by the Office of Superintendent Public Instruction.
Chronic absenteeism in Washington state is a major problem. Washington ranks second in chronic absenteeism in the country, just behind Alaska.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing school two days a month or 18 days in a school year, which adds up to missing 10 percent of school.
It doesn’t take long to understand the educational impact of missing that much school and how it hinders learning.
In Arlington for the past two years and again this fall, schools are asking families to sign an attendance agreement acknowledging their understanding of absences and how being absent impacts learning.
Additionally, schools have posters in their schools encouraging attendance. We also have these posters in the community, at doctor offices, laundry mats, grocery stores, etc. – any place that families may see them.
Principals regularly include information, tips and articles in their newsletters and emails home to families about the importance of regular attendance. Both the district and school websites include information and reminders regarding school attendance. Attendance Matters!
During the 2017-18 school year our attendance rates at the elementary level ranged from 92.5 percent to 95.3 percent. That may look impressive, but that is about 112-180 students who were chronically absent within our four elementary schools.
At our secondary schools, the picture is similar with rates in the low- to mid-90s. Again, these are admirable numbers but what about the other 7 precent to 10 percent of students? How do we encourage their participation and keep them in school and on track?
We have made good strides but are continuing efforts to improve upon those numbers. School administrators and teachers are meeting with families and students in an effort to find the cause and reduce barriers for student attendance.
APS has also established a Community Truancy Board that hears from students and families that are referred in lieu of truancy court and develops plans that create avenues for improved attendance and gets to the root of why students are missing school.
The district puts attendance as a high priority and individual schools have put various programs and incentives in place to encourage students to attend.
Chronic absenteeism is not just a school issue; it is a community issue that impacts everyone. Community members, organizations,and businesses are critical partners in this work.
We need to change the attitude around attendance, reduce the barriers that are keeping or hindering students from attending, and create a system that wraps supports around our students to get them to and keep them in school.
Arlington is serious about attendance and is striving to address this at the individual level. Our community needs to help in nurturing a “culture of attendance” in order to systemically change the landscape and support students and the ongoing efforts to improve regular school attendance.
Kathy Ehman is assistant superintendent for Arlington Public Schools, which runs a monthly column in these newspapers.