The message on school attendance could not be clearer, especially for elementary students: “If students are not in school, we cannot teach them,” says Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa.
Attendance matters because missing school, even preschool, can leave children behind their classmates. Consistently missing school or being late can mean children struggle in class not just this week or this month, but throughout their school years. Poor attendance can increase the child’s chance of not graduating, and can make it harder to succeed in college or a career.
Missing school as few as two days a month adds up quickly to nearly 10 percent of the academic year. Missing that much time makes it harder for children to learn to read by third grade (a key indicator of school success), and maintain their learning.
And it starts at home in the earliest years because young children rely on their families to get to school. Parents can help build good habits, and children’s determination, to get to school on time, every day.
“As parents, we can set the example for our children by making sure they arrive to school on time, and are absent from school only when it’s necessary,” says Dr. Avossa.
So how can you help your child? Here are eight tips from Attendance Works, a national initiative that promotes the importance of school attendance.
Create a routine. Set a regular “school night” bed time and an easy to follow morning routine - and then stick to them. With your child, decide on clothes the night before and lay them out to avoid delays and indecision. Pack lunch (if needed) and place it in the refrigerator, and put books and supplies in the backpack, the night before as well.
Create enthusiasm. For preschoolers and kindergartners, start talking about — even singing about — school during the summer to build anticipation and excitement. Play a game to count down the days to the first day.
Make a plan. Life is complicated. So make a back-up plan ahead of time with relatives, friends or neighbors to ensure your children get to school even if you can’t be the one to get them there. Emergencies come up for all parents, so find — and be — one of those partners who can pitch in with a ride or take turns on the walk or waiting at the bus stop.
Put school first. Schedule medical and dental appointments for after school. Try to avoid extended trips during the school year whenever possible.
Engage with the school and staff. Palm Beach County schools have numerous opportunities for parents: teacher conferences, PTAs and School Advisory Councils. Introduce yourself and meet the teachers before school starts. Ask for updates to make sure your child is showing progress. Share tips and troubles with other parents you meet at the school. See what works to help them get out the door in the morning.
Ask for help. If your child seems anxious about going to school, ask for advice from teachers or counselors about any concerns. There may be another problem hiding beneath the surface, like bullying or student safety. Get advice on how to keep your child comfortable at school and excited about learning. If you need help outside your school, reach out to these community resources:
- School District’s Bullying Awareness and Intervention: 561-982-0922
- Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County: 561-801-4357
- Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative: 561-366-9400
Be firm. Don’t let your child stay home unless she is truly sick. Remember that complaints of a stomach ache or headache can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to stay home. Again, reach out for help if you think your child is avoiding school.
Get informed. Check the School District calendar online in mid-summer to make sure you know what day school begins. If your child is just starting school, make sure he or she has all the required shots. If you live outside the walking/driving area, look up the bus stop location and time for where/when your child will be picked up and dropped off.
For a video on the importance of school attendance by Hedy Chang, founder and director of Attendance Works, click here. Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County sponsored a visit by Ms. Chang to discuss attendance with School District administrators and mayors of local cities.
And two final reminders for parents: First, good attendance is not just about complying with the rules. It’s really about providing children with more and better opportunities to learn. Second, an “excused” absence is still an absence. If your child isn’t in his seat, he’s not learning.
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