Start the School Year Right: Let’s Make Each Day Count

Start the School Year Right: Let’s Make Each Day Count
Posted on 09/08/2016

By Jerry Wilson, Superintendent of Schools

The opening days of school feature students arriving with backpacks stuffed with notebooks and unsharpened pencils, teachers in classrooms with freshly decorated bulletin boards, and students with new clothes meeting old friends. It’s a refreshing time of the year, filled with promise and excitement.   

In these early days of the new school year, some students begin heading toward academic trouble when they miss too many days of school. Across the country, as many as 7.5 million students, and last year in Worcester County 50 students, miss nearly a month of school every year—absences that correlate with poor performance at every grade level. 

This trend starts as early as kindergarten and continues through high school, contributing to achievement gaps, which affect dropout rates. 

This year, along with superintendents across the nation, I have joined a call to action to bring awareness to the issue of chronic absenteeism as well as to commit to helping solve this problem in our school system.   

To bring about that awareness, Worcester County Public Schools is recognizing September as Attendance Awareness Month, joining a nationwide movement to convey the message that Every School Day Counts. 

Good attendance is vital to student achievement, developing life-long habits for success, and our broader efforts to improve schools. All of our investments in curriculum and instruction won’t benefit students if they are not in school. 

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 instruction, because of excused and unexcused absences. 

These absences can impact a student’s performance throughout elementary school, especially those children living in poverty, who need school the most and then end up getting the least. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are less likely to read proficiently by third grade.  Students who don’t read well by that critical juncture are more likely to struggle in school. They are also more likely to be chronically absent in later years, since they never developed good attendance habits. 

Chronic absence in the early years is not from truancy or willfully skipping school. Instead, children stay home because of prolonged illness, unreliable transportation, housing issues, bullying or simply because their parents don’t understand how quickly absences add up—and affect school performance. After all, in a school year, 18 days is only two days a month! 

So let’s do what we can to turn this around. 

A key step is letting families know about the critical role they play in getting children to school on time every day. We rely on parents to cultivate a habit of good attendance, enforce bedtimes and other routines, and avoid vacations while school is in session. Schools will reinforce these messages, with many offering incentives for those students who demonstrate the best attendance. 

As a county, we are also going to take a closer look at our attendance numbers to see how many students are missing 10 percent or more of school days and who they are. Just as we use test scores to measure the progress that students and schools are making, we will look at chronic absence rates. 

But schools can’t do this alone. I encourage you to think about what you can do within your own family and your own school community to help our kids attend school every day. And, join WCPS in our effort this school year to make Every Day Count.