“Let’s go through each of these names. These are the students who may not be earning credit this semester due to excessive absences. Some have attendance contracts, other don’t. I’d like to hear the committee’s opinion on whether we are seeing improvement in these student’s attendance or not,” said JHS Principal Mike McElrath.
Dr. McElrath proceeded to go through the list with committee members giving input. The Attendance Committee diligently and deliberately reviewed the entire list during its meeting to ensure that every student who had an attendance issue is discussed.
A second list includes the names of the 800+ students who have had exemplary attendance, missing five days or less for the entire semester. Committee members determined how they could best recognize these students. They decided to order Raider Pride wristbands and allow them to enter a ticket into a drawing for one of three prizes to be given out at the end of the semester. Only students with exemplary attendance are eligible for the drawing.
These are just two of the many functions of the JHS Attendance Committee who meet weekly to review student absence data, determine and assign appropriate interventions, and discuss new ideas to improve attendance. The committee consists of teachers, counselors, administrators, the school nurse, and outreach staff. These meetings began in early September and will continue through the school year.
As a collective group, JHS staff and administration identified that student attendance was a challenge, which needed immediate attention. Research shows that students who miss ten percent or more are on track to drop out. Poor attendance impacts everyone in the school and in the community. Discussions were held at an early Shared Decision-Making Team meeting and everyone felt JHS needed to pursue some changes.
Shared Decision-Making Team Forms Attendance Committee
The Shared Decision-Making Team is committed to collaborative school improvement. They spent a good portion of last year studying model attendance programs from across the country and were particularly influenced by a comprehensive research study from John’s Hopkins University that came out last May (Balfanz and Byrnes, 2012). It found that students are willing to attend schools that are safe and orderly, welcoming and inviting and success-orientated. They study identified three primary reasons why students miss school.
• They cannot attend due to illness, family responsibility, housing instability, the need to work, or involvement in the justice system.
• They will not attend to avoid bullying, unsafe conditions, harassment and embarrassment.
• They do not attend because they, or their parents, do not see the value in being there. They have something else they would rather be doing or nothing stops them from skipping school.
In addition the study outlined characteristics of successful school programs to include:
• Close measurement and tracking of absenteeism
• Developing the diagnostic capacity to understand why students are missing school, along with a problem-solving capacity to help address those reasons.
• Building and sustaining relationships with the students who are missing school, and often their families.
• Developing a multi-sector and community response to poor attendance.
• Coordinating efforts to recognize and reward good attendance and a commitment to learning what works and what doesn’t.
Based on the information, the Shared Decision Making Team determined that the school needed to establish an Attendance Committee to devise programs and activities to improve attendance at JHS. Here are a few outcomes of the attendance committee work.
Monthly Homeroom Attendance Competitions
One new program is Homeroom Attendance Competitions. Walk through the main hallway in Jamestown High School and you’ll see Chris Maggio’s Statistics class analysis of JHS attendance data. At the beginning of each month, each homeroom receives a calendar to keep track of classroom attendance. At the end of the month, the average attendance of each homeroom is calculated. The homeroom with the best overall average attendance in the school, the top two homerooms from each grade level and the homeroom with the most improved average receive Tim Horton’s donuts to celebrate. In addition, the grade with best overall average attendance wins a battle point for the JHS Battle of the Classes event in March. Every month, each homeroom is given a spreadsheet with the results so that they can compare their attendance to other homerooms in their grade level. The goal of the contest is to improve attendance through awareness and friendly competition.
“Students are more concerned now when other students are not at school,” said teacher Lisa Holt. “Students are more aware that JHS considers their attendance vital to their success. Feedback about the homeroom competition from both students and teachers has been very positive.”
Targeted Attendance Interventions
The committee piloted a few programs during semester one and plans on moving to full implementation semester two. If a JHS student has been absent five days, they will have an initial discussion with their homeroom teacher. The purpose of this is to gather general information as to why the student was out and to let the student know that everyone at JHS is concerned with student attendance. After five days absence, a letter will also be sent home to let parents know that JHS is concerned. When students hit seven absences, they meet with their school counselor (or designated outreach worker) to further discuss the problem, and to gather more information on the issue and what would help JHS address it. This also prompts a phone call home to the parents. At 10 days absent, students are required to begin a contract to “earn back” lost time. Students can earn back a day by attending five consecutive days of school, three academic support sessions and have all their teachers verify that back work has been made-up. Students who fail to comply with contract requests will be required to attend a meeting with committee members and their parents to consider one last plan prior to losing credit for classes. Throughout this process, all interventions are documented and stored for committee use.
Academic Support Program
The Academic Support Program is a structured after school homework/project help session. It runs from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and serves students who are on contract for excessive absences in one or more subjects.
“The Academic Support Program provides a quiet, structured environment where students can focus on academics and get feedback and support from me,” said JHS ELA teacher Norma DeJoy. “The students with whom I have interacted have responded positively and work diligently. The students who commit to the program quickly improve their attendance habits as well as their academic performance, greatly improving the probability of success in the long-term.”
“Now that the school has created the attendance program, it has had a great effect on my school year,” said JHS junior Danielle Beardsley. “This program has helped me focus on school to keep my grades up, and it keeps me from missing school. It also keeps me focused on what’s really important: graduating from high school.”
School attendance is a significant factor in determining student success. At JHS, classes are 80 minutes, so missing days of school has a doubling effect. “It’s very difficult to miss multiple days of instruction and still grasp the concepts and particulars of the school curriculum,” stated Dr. McElrath. “We targeted attendance because it has the potential to yield significant gains. It doesn’t matter what new academic initiative is instituted at the state or local level, if a student is not present, they will not achieve.” In addition, good attendance is a life skill that must be developed during the schooling years. For many, a high school diploma is the first step on the road to employment and a better life, helping students understand the importance of attendance as it relates to success is critical. “We’re trying to help students develop the habits that will allow them to be successful moving forward, it all starts with being present for their own education.”