It’s no secret that children who miss class or are late to school -- especially in the early grades -- are more likely to fall behind their peers and less likely to read at grade-level. In Massachusetts, chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more school days in one year, for any reason; across the state, 12 percent of students are chronically absent. Since January, Stand has been involved in several efforts to improve student attendance in select districts.
In our Greater Springfield team, we’ve been supporting Holyoke Public School’s Parent Coordinator and Stand Member Leader Yamaris Rivera, as she oversees the attendance and punctuality of students at the H.B. Lawrence Elementary School. Yamaris closely tracks student attendance; parents of any students missing multiple days or showing up late receive letters home, get daily phone calls, and are required to attend meetings with District Attendance Officer Edgar Robles. During these meetings, parents learn the risks associated with excessive absenteeism. To encourage attendance, fliers on the importance of attendance are sent home; parents receive texts from the school as reminders; and the schools provide incentives for monthly perfect attendance. Each month, children that have been in school and on time receive a certificate, are allowed to sit at a special table during lunch, and receive small prizes such as school supplies or snacks. Families of these children receive a call from Stand’s Springfield Organizer Amneris Narvaez thanking them for their efforts. The students also get to take part in an ice cream celebration and receive special recognition at the school pep rally. Since starting this program, school attendance has improved.
Back in Boston, Member Leader Sylvia Toruno and Team Captain Jenniffer Lara have implemented a similar program for families from the Allston-Brighton and Greater Springfield teams. These parents signed a pledge each month, promising that their child would not miss a day of school for the entire month. At the end of each month, children who had not missed any days received perfect attendance certificates.
Yamaris’ advice for improving attendance:
- Provide medical documentation for any illness or appointments during school time. The school nurse is also willing to assess students and provide excused absences.
- Speak to faculty about barriers to attending school, such as getting your child out of bed or missing a school bus. They can help you create a plan to overcome these hurdles.
- Teachers and staff can motivate families by sending home notes, calling or texting parents, having conversations with parents during dismissal, creating attendance boards, and providing incentives for children with perfect attendance.