By Paula Ambrose

The new school year is upon us. Children are returning to school with an armload of supplies, meeting or reconnecting with friends and teachers, and basking in the promise of a new and exciting year. For some students, however, the novelty will wear off quickly and they will continue a trend of absenteeism that does not bode well for them academically or for their future job prospects.

September is Attendance Awareness Month. We need a month to call attention to this issue because the statistics are startling. Every year, one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students misses 10 percent or more of school days. This translates to nearly a month of missed academic instruction. Nationwide, up to 7.5 million students miss a month of school each year. If children don’t show up for school regularly, they miss out. In fact, preliminary data from a California study found that children who were chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade were far less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade.

Other studies show that chronic absences can set a pattern of academic failure that has long-lasting effects. School absences are strongly correlated with poor performance, higher levels of suspension, higher dropout rates, and lower wages as an adult.

In addition, chronic absences impact more than the absent student. They can slow down instruction for everyone in the classroom, making it harder for children to learn and teachers to teach. The bottom line is that absences result in loss of funding, lack of compliance with school rules, and most importantly, lost opportunities to learn. To learn more about the impact absences can have on a child, use this nifty Attendance Counts slider tool. Just missing one day every so often can add up to months of missed learning time.

The silver lining is that absenteeism is an issue that can be solved. This is one of the reasons that Oakland Reads 2020 has made School Attendance a key pillar in their strategies for achieving grade level reading by the end of third grade.

I encourage you to talk to parents and students about the importance of school attendance. If you’re at a loss for words, our friends at Attendance Works offer the following:

10 Things to Share with Parents about School Attendance:

  1. Children can suffer academically if they miss 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days. That can be just one day every two weeks, and that can happen before you know it.
  2. Sporadic absences, not just those on consecutive days of school, matter. Before you know it, just one or two days a month can add up to nearly 10 percent of the school year.
  3. Some absences are unavoidable. We understand that children will get sick and need to stay home occasionally. The important thing is to get your children to school as often as possible.
  4. Attendance matters as early as kindergarten. Studies show many children who miss too many days in kindergarten and first grade can struggle academically in later years. They often have trouble mastering reading by the end of third grade.
  5. Preschool is a great time to start building a habit of good attendance. Young children with poor attendance in preschool also lose out on valuable learning time and if chronic absence continues into kindergarten, it can pull down academic achievement.
  6. By middle and high school, chronic absence is a leading warning sign that a student will drop out.
  7. Too many absent students can affect the whole classroom, creating churn and slowing down instruction.
  8. You can turn to the school for help. Many schools offer services for the whole family. Seek help from the school or community if you are facing tough challenges related to access to health care, unstable housing, poor transportation or lack of food. More schools and community agencies are working together to offer help for the whole family.
  9. You can ask your principal to calculate chronic absence rates for the whole school. Even if your child attends regularly, it’s important to know how many students in your child’s schools are missing 10 percent or more of the school year.
  10. Above all, set an example for your child. Show him or her that attendance matters to you and that you won’t allow an absence unless someone is truly sick. Avoid asking older students to help with daycare and household errands.

What to Say to Students:

  • School is your first and most important job. You’re learning about more than math and reading. You’re learning how to show up for school on time every day, so that when you graduate and get a job, you’ll know how to show up for work on time every day.
  • Students who attend school regularly are more likely to graduate and find good jobs. In fact, a high school graduate makes, on average, a million dollars more than a dropout over a lifetime.
  • School only gets harder when you stay home too much. Sometimes it’s tempting to stay home because you’ve got too much work or you don’t understand what’s going on in class. But missing a day only makes that worse.

Find additional resources at:

  • Oakland Reads Community Voices Blog on efforts (and resources) underway in Oakland.
  • Every Day Counts toolkit, created by the Oakland Attendance Collaborative.

Happy Attendance Awareness Month! Thank you for all you do to help our kids make it to school every day.

See more at the Kenneth Rainin Foundation website.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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