September is Attendance Awareness Month
We’re only a few weeks into the fall semester for the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS), but even in these early days of the new school year, some students are already heading toward academic trouble because they are missing too many days of school.
Across the country, as many as 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school every year—absences that can correlate with poor performance at every grade level. This trend starts as early as kindergarten and continues through high school, contributing to achievement gaps and ultimately to dropout rates.
This year, United Way of Southwest Alabama (UWSWS), MCPSS, and Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood have joined a nationwide effort to celebrate Attendance Awareness Month in September and have pledged to raise awareness about the value of regular school attendance and focus on reducing absenteeism in the new school year.
“We can’t afford to think of absenteeism as simply an administrative matter,” said MCPSS Superintendent and UWSWA Board Member Martha Peek. “Good attendance is central to student achievement and our broader efforts for all students to be college ready, career ready and life ready. Students need to be in school each day to achieve and succeed.”
Problems with absenteeism start surprisingly early. National research shows that one in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students are chronically absent, meaning that they miss 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days of curriculum, because of excused and unexcused absences.
Within MCPSS, 3.1% of students, or more than 2,500 students, were chronically absent during the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest data from Alabama School Connection.
By middle school, chronic absence becomes one of the leading indicators that a child will drop out of high school.
Chronic absence isn’t just about truancy or willfully skipping school. Instead, children stay home because of chronic illness, unreliable transportation, housing issues, bullying, or simply because their parents don’t understand how quickly absences add up and affect school performance.
A key step is letting families know about the critical role they play in getting children to school on time every day. For the fifth year in a row, UWSWA, in partnership with MCPSS and Mobile County Commissioner Ludgood, has distributed more than 30,000 flyers with tips for developing good attendance habits to families at every MCPSS elementary school.
But schools can’t do this alone.
“This matters to all of us, not just those with school-aged children,” said Mobile County Commissioner Ludgood. “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.”
“We are calling on the whole community to help,” said UWSWA President & CEO Clifford Grimes. “We know that asthma and dental problems often contribute to absences, especially among children from low-income neighborhoods. We are thankful for our 48 partner agencies and other area nonprofits who work daily to overcome the systemic barriers in getting to school, such as unreliable transportation, chronic health issues, poor nutrition, mental health and social emotional problems, and other health issues.”
During Attendance Awareness Month, we are asking school leaders, community advocates, parents, and students to act upon these critical first steps to help stem chronic absenteeism:
- Build a habit and a culture of regular attendance,
- Use data to determine when and with whom chronic absence is a problem, and
- Identify and address barriers to getting children to school.
To help promote good attendance, UWSWA and Commissioner Ludgood will host Attendance Celebrations to applaud outstanding attendance at Mobile County public elementary schools. Classes with fewer than three absences from September 1 to 30, 2017, are eligible and may be selected to receive a fun-filled classroom celebration.
For more information about United Way’s Attendance Awareness initiative, please contact the UWSWA office at 251-433-3624.