The school year began only weeks ago, but absenteeism is already an issue and some students in your class are at risk of failure simply because they will miss too many days.
Although the problem of absenteeism may seem worse than ever, the first public high school opened in 1821 and only two years later, 76 of the original 176 students had dropped out, according to research of Rush and Vitale reported in 1994.
While we’ve come a long way since then, combating absenteeism can still seem impossible at times. Use the following suggestions to help keep students coming to class and learning to succeed.
1. Identify the problem
You must first find out who is missing and why are these students absent so often. A reliable system to identify students at risk because of chronic absenteeism is crucial. A program such as Attendance Works is free and can be used to recognize chronic absenteeism and the reasons behind it, and even evaluate how well your school is doing in addressing the problem. Your school may already monitor absenteeism and if you have a concern about students in your classes, ask for the data available.
2. Talk to the students
Some kids just don’t realize how much they miss when they miss school. Talk to them about how their frequent absences mean they don’t get important information that is built upon day after day, leading to their ultimate understanding of the lessons being taught. Their homework can’t be done because they didn’t learn what they need to know to do the homework, and test scores reflect their lack of knowledge because you did not have the opportunity to teach them. They already know that they should be there according to school rules and state law, but make sure they know why it is important for them to succeed.
3. Show you care
Sometimes talking is not enough. Teachers must show their students that school, and their class, is a good place to be. Your relationship with them should be warm and open. If you recognize a problem or change in them – including ones that result in absenteeism – devise a way to let them know you are there for them. Some schools or districts have formed attendance teams which address the specific problems of absent students and follow through with plans to improve attendance. Some kids may need help with transportation, child care for younger siblings, or bullying at school.
4. Involve parents
Talk to the parents of students with high absenteeism to make sure that they know how many classes their child has missed. Offer to help with work missed, but make sure the parents know the severe impact of poor school attendance on their child’s future. If you have learned of other issues in your talks with the students, let parents know that these are problems for the student and ask for their support and encouragement in promoting education and school attendance. Parent communication is crucial in knowing what students are facing at home and how those issues affect their school attendance.
5. Motivate the students
School counselors in Georgia developed a program called “Operation SCATT,” School Counts All the Time. Students with seven or more absences met with counselors who discussed why school attendance is important and how it contributes to academic success. Each student was given a tracking card and instructed to stop each day at the counselor’s office to receive a stamp for attendance that day. Students in school for a week without missing a day receive a reward. Those present for four weeks in a row without an absence earn a bigger prize, and at the end of the year, students with only one or two additional absences are eligible to participate in a special event, like a pizza party. While this exact model might not work for your class or your school, devise small ways to motivate students to come to school every day.
6. Develop after-school programs
Research has shown that students in after-school programs have lower absenteeism rates than other students. If your school does not have an after-school program, meet with administrators to discuss the need and importance of this tool to combat absenteeism. Two programs to check out are CAST, Coping and Support Training, designed for middle and high school students at high risk for school dropout; and Check and Connect, in which a mentor develops a relationship with a student who has given up on school to both challenge the student and advocate for him or her with teachers, family, and the community.
Taking class attendance and reporting chronic absenteeism is only a first step. Every student, parent, teacher, administrator, and community resident must know how important school attendance is to future success, and act together to achieve it for all students.