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Attendance is fundamental

 A new study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University concludes that up to 15 percent of students miss up to a month of school per year.

It’s pretty clear: If you’re not in school, you’re not learning, and you’re missing out on crucial information for your academic success.

I see it in my school. The chronically absent students struggle because they’re in two places at once. They’re at school, but they’re also somewhere else. One day, they might be geographically at school, but their mind is psychologically elsewhere. The next day, it may be the reverse.

Sporadic attendance not only inhibits academic performance, but it also prevents students from feeling comfortable and safe in school. If you’re not in school, it’s harder to feel like a scholar.

It’s easy to think of attendance in simple terms. Everybody — teachers, students, families — knows that you should come to school every day, so what’s the problem? Why aren’t you coming to school every day?

Of course, it’s not that easy. Students don’t attend school for a variety of reasons, and some are silly, while others are deep. It’s important that we figure out those barriers and address them immediately.

Is it because school is boring? or unsafe? Is it an issue of poverty? or childcare? or health?

As an adviser, I haven’t done such a good job with attendance. Despite my efforts (mostly texting), the same students who came late or intermittently in ninth grade are the same students who struggle with attendance now as seniors. Attendance habits are hard to break and usually align with deep, longstanding causes.

The good news is that there are many schools that can serve as models. Most successful programs offer services and support to students. Oakland High School’s Shop 55 is getting good results. Our school’s Advisory program offers personalization so that students feel known well by at least one adult at the school. Relationships matter, but so does follow-up. Attendance doesn’t get better unless there’s time for adults to follow through with students and families. It seems appropriate that a big effort is needed, especially at the ninth grade level, where attendance is a strong predictor of high school graduation. 

Please share your brilliant insights!