It’s time to celebrate Attendance Awareness Month! This month-long recognition was started in 2013 by the national nonprofit Attendance Works with the goal of mobilizing schools and communities to promote the value of good attendance and to address chronic absenteeism.
In the opening days of the school year, buildings are filled with students reconnecting with friends and meeting teachers, abuzz with the excitement of a new year. But even in these early days of the new school year, some students are already heading toward academic trouble: they are missing too many days of school.
Chronic absenteeism refers to a child missing 10 percent of the school year for any reason – excused and unexcused, including in-school suspensions. Research shows that this is the point when students start to fall behind academically. Chronic absenteeism is a largely hidden crisis that is undermining student achievement as early as kindergarten.
According to an Attendance Works report, absenteeism rates among kindergartners, particularly low-income and minority children, are nearly as high as those among high school freshmen. An estimated 1 in 10 kindergartners misses at least 18 days of school, or nearly a month of class, per year. Chronic absence in kindergarten can leave third-graders unable to read proficiently, sixth-graders struggling with coursework, and high school students off track for graduation. These absences are especially problematic among students living in poverty who are most likely to have poor attendance over multiple years and least likely to have the resources to make up for the lost time in the classroom. The missed days in a student’s earliest years are a significant precursor to reduced levels of school achievement and increased risk of dropping out of school.
Good attendance is central to students’ success and our broader efforts to improve our schools. All of our investments depend on students being there to benefit from them.
So how do we turn this around?
Our best opportunity to reverse this trend lies in early childhood. We must have a unified effort to help children and families make a smooth transition into kindergarten, starting with being registered and present on the first day of school.
At some schools, only a fraction of the projected kindergarteners are enrolled and attend class on day one. When children are not registered on time, it creates difficulties for the schools, the teachers, and the families. It also means that some young learners are missing the very first days of their academic career, putting them behind their classmates from the start. Children who are absent on the first day of kindergarten are also more likely to be chronically absent all the way through high school.
This is why our Transition to Kindergarten Initiative, a collaboration with Durham Public Schools, works throughout the year to make sure that children in Durham enter kindergarten on time and feeling excited, ready to learn and supported by their school, family and community. Year-round transition events at schools and annual community-wide events like Kindergarten Registration Week build connections between families and the schools and encourage on-time enrollment and attendance, all of which are key factors to a quality start to school.
Students come to school when educators and community partners join with families to identify and address challenges, create a more welcoming school environment, and help everyone understand the importance of avoiding unnecessary absences. During Attendance Awareness Month and throughout the year, think about what you can do within your own family, your place of business, and your own neighborhood to help get children in school and make every day count!