Communicating the Importance of Attendance

I love having the opportunity to talk with our Check & Connect mentors. I leave every discussion with great new ideas for how to work with students and families! My time in Chicago in November was no exception. I met with 7 incredible mentors working with Check & Connect students in grades 1-8 in Chicago Public Schools. These mentors shared so many innovative strategies for connecting with students and families.

What stood out to me most was their work with parents. Being in their second or third year of mentoring this school year, these mentors are experiencing more success in engaging with families than they did early on in their mentoring. Each mentor reported increased communication with families, improved parent participation in school events such as parent-teacher conferences, and parents reaching out to the mentors with questions or requests for help – all a credit to the mentors’ hard work in ensuring the implementation of the often-neglected fourth component of Check & Connect: family engagement.

There’s one particular strategy for connecting with families that I just have to share because it’s one you can start using immediately. Sydnie Monegan, who is in her second year of Check & Connect mentoring in Chicago Public Schools, shared the following story and amazing tool.

Sydnie has had phenomenal success connecting with students and families, but has struggled to help some families on her caseload truly understand the importance of school attendance. Some parents seem to have the mindset that a few absences (especially excused absences) or bringing the child to school late isn’t that big of a deal – it doesn’t impact the child’s learning. So Sydnie was looking for a way to communicate the importance of attendance with all families, particularly those who don’t fully appreciate its significance, in a meaningful, relevant way that would stick with them.

In Sydnie’s current school, which serves grades K-8, parents pick up their child’s report card and meet with teachers once per semester. Since reports cards include students’ attendance, including cumulative absences, Sydnie thought that parent report card pick-up night would be an opportune time to talk with families about attendance. Sydnie set up a Check & Connect table near the report card table and placed a note in each mentee’s report card asking their parents to stop by the Check & Connect table to talk with her.

After greeting parents and discussing any questions or concerns that they had, Sydnie pulled up the BoostAttendance website on her laptop. The website demonstrates how “absences add up” and the impact that they can have on students’ academic performance. Sydnie asked parents to state the number of absences the student has had this school year so far, as recorded on the report card, and Sydnie used the slider tool on the BoostAttendance website to demonstrate the impact that number of absences was likely to have on the student’s math and reading percentile and likelihood of graduating from high school. Numbers on the slider tool start at average (50th percentile) and decrease with every day of school missed. For example, a middle school student who has missed 5 days of school sees their projected math percentile drop to 45, reading percentile to 42, and chance of graduation to 82%. For students who began the year performing below the 50th percentile, these numbers are likely to be lower.

Image from www.boostup.org

Screen capture of BoostAttendance website, selecting 5 days missed and subsequent calculated risks.

The tool was powerful to parents. They could literally see the impact absences were having on their child’s education; the visual had an impact beyond simply telling parents that school attendance is important. Sydnie shared that a high school brother of one of her mentees was attending the conference with his parent and when he saw the website he asked if he could put in the number of days he had missed so far to see the impact they could have on his achievement (note the two school levels at the top of the screen). The tool provided a wake-up call for the parents and the high school student and opened the door to a conversation parents were sometimes reluctant to have.

The BoostAttendance website also includes tips for parents to help their children improve their attendance, a parent’s guide to truancy (PDF), and a text messaging tool for parents to track their child’s absences and receive reminders about how those absences can impact the child’s school success. Parents (or students over the age of 13) can also sign up with GetSchooled to get a free pre-recorded celebrity wake-up call for their child from  stars such as Nicki Minaj, Jesse McCartney, Trevor Jackson, Big Sean, Diggy Simmons, Bella Thorne, One Direction, and others.

Thanks to Sydnie for bringing this tool to our attention! We encourage Check & Connect mentors to share this tool with their families and their students, especially their secondary students, who have more control over their own attendance.

For more information on the importance of school attendance and more great resources to support attendance, also check out the Attendance Works website.

Discussion

What are some tools or strategies that you’ve used with families and students to promote attendance? Please share in the comments section below or join our discussion list and share via email with others implementing Check & Connect or another student engagement program. We love to hear from mentors and site coordinators!


About the Author: Angie Pohl, Ph.D. provides training nationally and internationally on Check & Connect, serves as an investigator on several Check & Connect research projects currently underway, and is one of the authors of the 2012 Check & Connect manual, “Implementing with Fidelity”.

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