Sept. 16, 2016
Two absences a month is all it takes for a student to be
classified as chronically absent (18 missed days or more). While that may not
sound like much on the surface, considering district students are in school
from August to June, those missed classroom days adversely affect students in
“I can tell you that a kid who is chronically absent in
preschool, kindergarten or first grade are half as likely to read by the third grade,”
said Cami Hallgarth, an IPS graduation coach for the district’s west side
schools. “This is the biggest statistic that shows attendance does make a
difference. If you’re enrolled in school, you need to be there.”
Hallgarth knows, for many families, it’s not that simple.
To help students, parents and caregivers understand the
importance of having good attendance, IPS has partnered — for the second year —
with Attendance Works. The national
and state initiative promotes awareness of the important role that school
attendance plays in achieving academic success, starting with school entry.
For IPS, the initiative also includes a three
tier system, which ranges from fun incentive efforts to encourage students to attend
school regularly (Tier 1) to more aggressive and proactive approaches for
students that are high-needs in attendance (kids who, for example, are homeless
Throughout the district, IPS students have
been observing September as Attendance Awareness Month. Hallgarth and others
are working to ensure the initiative goes well beyond the 30 days in September.
“The initiative is not new, but this year we’ve done a
better job of making teachers, parent involvement educators and principals more
aware of it and kids and parents aware of it,” said Hallgarth.
The district is hoping the introduction of brag tags will be
a big help in improving attendance districtwide at the elementary/middle school
level. The colorful “dog tag-like” incentives are being distributed to students
who achieve perfect attendance each month.
“The brag tags are an intervention incentive for kids and basically
for each school to have something to motivate kids to come to school,” said
Hallgarth, “so that social workers can focus on kids who really need the
There’s one IPS class that doesn’t really need brag tags to
motivate them — although they probably won’t turn them away.
Instead, Laura Baker’s combined fourth-fifth grade class at
George Washington Carver Montessori School 87 is focusing on a larger incentive
— besting last year’s record of 23 perfect attendance weeks. They even have the
“Great Attendance” T-shirts they earned to prove it.
Baker said her students understand the importance of being
in school because she stresses that school is part of their job.
“They know that their work in here is their job, and if you
miss your job too many times, you don’t have a job anymore,” said Baker. “So
having perfect attendance and being at school all the time creates a habit of
being where you need to be for your job.”
Students Amiel Falk and Zion Bluestein also pointed out that
missing school causes more problems for students.
“It’s better to come to school so you don’t fall behind in
class,” said Amiel.
“You’ll also have too much work to catch up on and you won’t
know what to do the next day you come,” said Zion.
In addition to trying to best last year’s perfect attendance
record, Baker’s students also enjoy the treats — cookies, cakes, pancakes,
hotdogs — she makes for them each Monday to celebrate the previous week’s
perfect attendance. The class also affixes paper buses above the classroom
door, with each bus representing a perfect attendance week.
Currently, there are four buses on the wall.
While Baker knows that the appeal of beating last year’s
score, the treats and visual reminders are all incentives toward their ultimate
goal, she also attributes the Montessori curriculum as one of the main reasons her
students actually want to be in school every day.
“We were talking about this earlier, but I think the
non-traditional way that we learn here addresses the interests and needs of
kids maybe more than other places. So, I’d like to believe that there’s more
days that they want to come to school than not want to come to school because
of things that might be happening or friendships made,” said Baker. “And maybe
the desserts on Monday help a little bit.”
Hallgarth acknowledges the uniqueness of what’s happening in
“I really think that George Washington Carver in particular
does a really good job of creating that spirit of, ‘This is our family and we
want you here, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get you here and make
you successful.’ Not that every other place doesn’t have it, but I walk into
that (school) and I feel that spirit,” said Hallgarth.