7 Ways Parents Can Help Reduce Chronic School Absences
The holiday season is officially upon us. But before we can settle back with family and friends, we must make the necessary preparations. We’re putting in longer hours at the office, scheduling last-minute doctor’s appointments and, occasionally, sneaking our children out of school early to visit out-of-town relatives. During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it may not seem like a big deal for kids to miss a few hours, or even days, of school. Besides, it’s just parties, crafts and fun at this point of the school year, right?
As parents, we’ve been trained to think absences only matter when our children are older and are learning more complex subjects in school. Unfortunately, what we often forget is the building blocks of learning—the ones that are essential for children’s later success—start early. Each day our children aren’t at school, they’re missing critical reading and math instruction time they need to excel in school and life.
So, how do we know if our children are missing too much school? According to Attendance Works, a state and national initiative, chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent or approximately 18 days of the school year. While this may sound like a lot, it’s actually only two days missed each month. With holidays, vacations and sick days, these absences can quickly add up.
Unfortunately, chronic absenteeism is happening right here in Arkansas across all income levels and demographic groups. According to the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR) and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, more than 12 percent of all Arkansas kindergarten through third grade students were chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year. Today, 50 Arkansas public schools have chronic absenteeism rates of 30 percent or more. Another 109 Arkansas schools have rates of 20 to 29 percent.
As Attendance Works says, chronic absence is a “red flag for academic trouble.” Studies show children who are chronically absent in kindergarten show lower levels of achievement in math, reading and general knowledge during first grade and are predicted to have lower levels of educational achievement at the end of the fifth grade. Chronically absent students are also less likely to read on grade level—significantly hurting their chances of being able to make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” by the end of the third grade. Without intervention, these absences can continue into higher grades, putting our students at even greater risk of dropping out of school.
The good news? We can help turn chronic absenteeism around. In 2013, the AR-GLR and Attendance Works launched the Make Every Day Count Initiative to help schools, districts and communities track chronic absences and develop and implement plans to help kids in the classroom. But as parents we can, and must, help too. By getting our children to school on time and ready to learn every day, we can ensure our children have a chance to succeed. Here are a few proven tips we can implement at home to help reduce chronic absences:
Highlight the importance of attendance. Talk to children about why going to school is important to their future. If a child seems reluctant to go to school, find out why (i.e., bullying or academic difficulties) and work with the teacher, administrator or after-school provider to find a solution.
Set a weekday routine. Establish and stick to regular bedtimes and wake-up times so children develop a habit for on-time attendance. Ensure smoother mornings by packing backpacks and lunches and laying out clothes in the evening.
Create a backup plan. Find a relative, friend or neighbor who can take children to school if something affects your normal routines (i.e., illness or car troubles).
Promote healthy habits. Encourage children to eat breakfast so they show up at school ready to learn. Help prevent illnesses and missed days with regular doctor visits and preventive care. If appointments are necessary, schedule them after the school day.
Be aware. Stay up-to-date on children’s curricula and homework assignments. This will help us understand what they are learning each day and see first-hand how much a day away from school will impact that learning. If children are absent, coordinate with the teacher to make sure they have the opportunity to make up missed work.
Encourage continued learning. Consider enrolling children in after-school programs and identify non-academic activities such as drama or art, which can help motivate children’s interests in school.
Celebrate milestones. Keep an attendance chart at home and reward children for attending school every day with “treats” such as extra visits to the park. To stay on track, visit ar-glr.net and fill out “My Child’s Attendance Goals.”
Balancing hectic work schedules, appointments and a full slate of extracurricular activities can be difficult, especially around the holidays. But as parents we must make it our priority to ensure our children attend school every day. When it comes to our children’s success, it’s essential we make every school day count.
Angela Duran is the campaign director for the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. She is the proud mother of Matthew, a first grader at Forest Heights STEM Academy, and Noah, a pre-K student at Fair Park Early Childhood Center.