School absences add up in more ways than one

September is Attendance Awareness Month in Rappahannock Public Schools and across the state.

Unfortunately, illness and other special circumstances — dentist appointments, family vacations, etc. — all result in absences from school. And over the course of the school year, absences can add up quickly. In a statement released from the Virginia Department of Education, missing an average of only two days a month (18 days total) can negatively impact the academic success of the student. Eighteen absences in a school year, referred to as chronic absence, can result in an elementary student not mastering essential skills that all future learning is based upon. In high school, chronic absences are associated with failing courses and, in some cases, not graduating.

But here’s what you might not have known: Chronic absenteeism negatively impacts the school, particularly in funding. The goal of the school system is to maintain an average attendance of 95 percent to ensure that funding is not reduced. While a missed day here or there may not sound like a lot on an individual level, it can have detrimental effect when taking into account all the absences from the student body. Funding is based on average daily membership, or ADM. This figure is determined by dividing the total of children in attendance each day (daily membership) by the number of days that the school was in session. A lower ADM results in less funding.

Rappahannock schools are taking a proactive approach to increasing awareness of absenteeism. According to Michael Tupper, executive director of Student Support Services, the goal this year is to “create good habits of attendance.” In addition, the schools are taking a more personal approach. Rather than using the ‘robo’ call system, Tupper is personally calling parents directly with the goal of establishing a team approach to prevent future absences.

“My approach is not punitive,” Tupper said. “Rather it is, what can I do to help?”

In addition, RCPS students at both the elementary and high school levels are being given incentives to establish good attendance habits this month. At the elementary school, the class with highest attendance rate during the month of September will receive a special pizza party. Students are rewarded individually as well. Each student that has perfect, full day attendance will receive extra recess. The students that only have 1 or 2 early dismissals or tardies during September will receive special recognition and a pencil.

At the high school level, students that have perfect, full day attendance for the week are entered into a weekly prize drawing. Two winners are selected to receive a free pass to an athletic event of their choice and a $5 concessions voucher. At the end of the month, all students with perfect attendance (no tardies or early dismissals) will be entered into a grand prize drawing. A winner from each grade level will received a pizza and dessert for to share with three of their friends during lunch.

“By attending school each day, you develop a habit that will help you achieve great things in the future,” Tupper noted.

— Holly Jenkins

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