Educators see the real effect of absenteeism on students’ academic achievement and their schools’ performance on state tests.
It’s so important to schools that they try to encourage students to come to class every day and celebrate those who have perfect attendance. Lori Johnson, the principal of Windsor Spring Elementary, said her school’s teachers reach out both to pupils and parents to stress the importance of attendance. Windsor Spring made the federal “adequate yearly progress” benchmark for six consecutive years, through 2010, and had a 96.83 percent attendance rate in 2009-10.
“First and most important are parents. Parents must ensure that their child comes to school on time and ready to learn,” Johnson said in an e-mail. “A second important factor is the relationships teachers build with their students.”
She added that teachers and support staff employees do what they can to make sure pupils understand how important it is that they are at school, and they celebrate those who show up consistently.
“Students need to know that their attendance is valued,” Johnson said. “Every nine weeks, we celebrate students here at Windsor Spring Elementary who have perfect attendance for the grading period. At the end of the school year, students with perfect attendance for the school year receive Perfect Attendance Trophies.”
There is even more emphasis at the high school level on reaching out to students.
Not only do Academy of Richmond County educators stress the importance of students being at school, but they also try to encourage students by making lessons lively and offering clubs to serve a wide range of teens’ interests.
Richmond Academy has a wide-reaching attendance zone, which includes Fort Gordon, as well as students from throughout Richmond County enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. That means a high percentage of students are bused to and from school, making attending after-school activities difficult for some. To solve that problem, the academy designated Wednesday as “club day,” setting aside time during homeroom for a number of clubs to meet.
“When we meet with freshmen in the beginning of the year, we emphasize join a club, play in the band, sign up for ROTC, try out for football,” Principal Tim Spivey said.
The message has resonated with many students. Last Wednesday, for instance, a good portion of the morning announcements was devoted to where clubs were meeting. The long list included such diverse offerings as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Junior ROTC, Poetry Club, National Society of Black Engineers, Stock Market Club and Academy Café.
The café is an extension of the Family and Consumer Sciences class – formerly known as home economics. Students in the club take the cooking lessons from class and prepare meals for teachers and other students, Assistant Principal Renee Kelly said.
Richmond Academy’s four-year graduation rate was 79.3 percent for the Class of 2010, above the Richmond County rate of 77.5 percent and below Georgia’s 80.8 percent rate, according to state-issued report cards.
“We have all the things, hopefully, that kids would be interested in,” said Blanding Hite, 18, a senior who is in the IB program. “If there is something someone is interested in that isn’t available, which would be hard because there are of a lot of clubs, the school lets you start one.”
Hite is an example of the engagement Richmond Academy encourages for all students. The soccer player is the president of the Beta Club and a member of Interact, Key Club and the yearbook staff. He has been accepted to the University of Georgia, where he plans to study biology or medicine.
JaQueria Rogers, 17, agrees with the idea of being involved in school and showing up every day. The senior IB student is a member of Key Club, Senior Council and Math Club, and she plays wheelchair basketball. She has been accepted to Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., where she plans to major in radiology.
Attendance “is very important,” Rogers said. “If you’re not at school, you miss out on so many opportunities to learn. You can make up the assignments, but it’s not the same as being there for the lesson.”
Katie West, an IB biology teacher at Richmond Academy, said making lessons relevant to students’ real-world knowledge makes her teaching more engaging.
“We are studying anatomy and physiology right now, learning what the different systems are and how they function,” she said. “They can see very easily how what we are discussing connects to the real world.”