Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach
Each year, the average student misses 11 days of school. That translates into more than two full weeks of school and nearly 80 hours of classroom instruction.
But, then again, 11 days is just an average: while some students miss fewer than that many days of school, others – in particular, secondary students, who are absent for upwards of three weeks’ worth of classroom instruction on average – miss more.
And, in this case, more is less: research suggests that high rates of absenteeism often result in decreased reading achievement, lower academic performance, and reduced probability of graduation, among other consequences.
“High rates of absenteeism have been linked to failure to graduate on time and a higher risk of dropping out of school,” says Sharon Ochs, coordinator the Baltimore County Public Schools Office of Pupil Personnel Services. “We also know that students who miss a large number of school days are less likely to read on grade level by Grade 3, which is another drop-out predictor.”
Yet, as hard to swallow as are the potential consequences of high absenteeism, easy to implement are the possible strategies for their prevention. In celebration of Attendance Awareness Month, which runs through the end of September, below are 10 tips for you to help your child to get ready, get set, and be present this school year!
- Review state attendance laws
Have you heard about the recent change to Maryland’s Compulsory School Attendance law? As of July 1, 2015, the age of compulsory school attendance in Maryland is 17, not the previous 16. That means that all children who live in Maryland and are between the ages of five and 17 must attend school. While the age of compulsory school attendance will rise again – then, to 18 – for the 2017-2018 school year, now is a great time to encourage your child to view his or her education as a priority for the long, not short, term.
- Keep a calendar
Everyone knows that schools are open Monday through Friday, beginning at the end of August and running through the middle of June. But, what everyone might not know is exactly when schools are closed for holidays, professional development, and other activities and observations. Fortunately, BCPS maintains a calendar with those dates online. When scheduling dentist visits and doctor appointments for your child, be sure to consult the school year calendar so that your plans don’t interfere with his or her education.
- Prepare the night before
The early bird catches the worm, but the proactive night owl arrives to school on-time and ready to learn! An hour before your child’s bedtime, encourage him or her begin thinking about the next school day – what to wear, what to eat for lunch, what music or sports equipment to pack, etc. Jot down a list of your child’s thoughts, then divide up the tasks and mark them off as you go. Once you and your child have marked off each item on the list, save the list and place it near the front door. That way, you’ll be able to do a quick check in the morning to ensure that your child has everything that he or she will need that day!
- Create a daily routine
Thinking about the next school day an hour before your child’s bedtime doesn’t have to be the only habit that you and your family develop this school year; you can form others, too! For example, set your child’s alarm clock for a time that allows him or her to arrive to school before class and the morning announcements begin. Then, on the weekend, have your child wake up at the same time, even if he or she doesn’t have any early morning activities planned. By waking up at the same time each day, your child not only will begin to feel less tired in the morning but also will have a foundation upon which to build a daily routine. When school provides the outline for that foundation, maintaining good attendance becomes easy!
- Learn more about extracurricular activities
What’s your child’s passion? Or, about what is he or she curious? While classes give students one opportunity to explore the subjects that interest them, extracurricular activities provide them with another opportunity – and, particularly if they are held shortly after the dismissal bell rings, another reason to attend school, too! Call your child’s school to find out what clubs, committees, and sports teams are available there. From journalism to robotics and volleyball, BCPS schools have a lot to offer!
- Partner with school staff
Guidance counselors, teachers, and school administrators are committed not only to your child’s academic achievement but to his or her emotional and social development, as well. If you believe that your child might be missing time inside the classroom due to an issue in his or her personal life, contact his or her school with your concern. While guidance counselors have access to resources and tools that support student success, teachers and school administrators can work together to provide any necessary accommodations to help your child feel comfortable and confident.
- Connect with a mentor
Like family, friends, and faculty members at your child’s school, a mentor is someone with whom your child can speak for advice and guidance. However, what distinguishes mentors from other sources of support is the way in which they develop personal and professional relationships with their mentees. With the help of your child’s school or a local community organization to which your family belongs, search for a mentor whose goals and interests are similar to those of your daughter or son. Once you have found a match, coordinate regular meetings between your child and his or her mentor so that they can discuss school, college, careers, and of course, the importance of good attendance at every stage of life!
- Be a role model
While research seemingly always will be at odds regarding the exact degree of parents’ influence on their children, the prevailing consensus is that parents have at least some impact on the decisions carried out by their daughters and sons. And, surely, you have made observations in your own household that can attest to that view. For instance, perhaps, you have taken a sweater with you on an evening walk, only to see your child do the same. Or, perhaps, you have shared the study strategies that you used while you were in school, only to hear that your child tried them in preparation for his or her most recent exam. Whatever the case, use your natural influence to instill your child with good attendance habits by fulfilling your own commitments – to your job, to your family and friends, etc.
- Recognize good – and improved! – attendance
Everyone has to start from somewhere – and that goes for attendance, too! Whether your child currently has above average, average, or below average attendance, your family’s goal can mirror that of BCPS: to improve overall attendance. Throughout the school year, BCPS will reinforce that aim with badges, posters, school-wide incentive programs, videos, and more, but there are other ways that you can support it in your own home. For example, keep a calendar to track your child’s daily attendance. At the end of each month, compare your child’s attendance to the previous month and reward him or her for any improvement that you notice. For an added incentive, celebrate each week that your child maintains perfect attendance – that means no absences or missed instruction time! – by adding his or her name and photograph to an “Attendance Wall of Fame.” The tangible reminder of his or her success will encourage your child to continue making progress!
- Know when it’s OK to stay home
As important as your child’s education is, more important is his or her health – because, after all, trying to work through an algebra problem with a headache or complete a set of jumping jacks with a stomachache can be difficult. If your child mentions that he or she is feeling sick or experiencing pain, do your best to determine whether your child’s complaint warrants his or her absence from school. Thermometers and visual checks can offer some insight into your child’s condition, but if you are unsure whether your child should stay home, send him or her to school. A school nurse can provide supplemental information – and advice for returning your child to good health, too!
Improving attendance is a process – one that begins with awareness and knowledge, and ends with action and change. With these 10 tips, you’re already halfway there; now, all that’s left to do is to put them into practice and make this school year the best one yet!
For more information on attendance, visit the Office of Pupil Personnel Services webpage on the BCPS website at http://www.bcps.org/offices/sss/pupil_personnel/.