If a school is lucky, it gets to educate a student for about 14 percent of that child’s year – 420 minutes per day, 180 days per year.
Classroom time is precious.
That’s why it was so concerning to Logan Elementary School principal Christopher Richards when his students missed 2,350 days and were late to school some 2,800 times last year – an average of nine absences and more than 10 tardies for each student at the 260-student school in downtown Columbia.
“It’s almost sad. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got school.’ It’s Wednesday, why would we not have school?” Richards said.
Disappointed in the amount of class time students were missing, Logan Elementary instituted a new attendance policy this year that it hopes will encourage families to place more value on their students’ time in school.
Now, to earn the honor of “perfect attendance,” a Logan student doesn’t have to simply be present each day. They also must have no absences, tardies or early dismissals.
Students also can’t participate in special musical ensembles, which practice first thing in the mornings, if they are late to school or miss too many days. They also might miss out on free breakfast served in the school’s cafeteria.
“We’re putting ... less value on just attendance and more value on time in class, time in instructional hours,” Richards said. “A lot of our parents are super faithful, and they get their kid on that bus every day. ... Also, we just have parents that roll out of bed and bring their kids to school. (But) there’s definitely a value issue sometimes.”
You have to have bodies in seats in order for students to take advantage of the instructional program.
Toni Kelly Campbell, Richland 1 attendance coordinator
One difficulty with encouraging attendance among Logan students is that the school hosts a Montessori program with half-day classes for pre-kindergarteners, who are not required by law to attend school. Of the school’s 44 most-chronically absent students last year, Richards said, half of them were 3K, 4K or 5K students.
Even though it’s not mandatory, school attendance for the youngest of students is a predictor of future high school graduation, Richards said. And national research supports that chronic absence early in education correlates to lower academic performance later on.
Transportation issues also can be a factor in getting students to school and on time. And other domestic factors can affect attendance. For instance, Richards has had students whose parents take them out of school early to care for younger siblings at home while the parents work.
In some cases, schools and the district can help address those issues.
“Are there resources available for the parents who are struggling, I think is a question we have to ask ourselves,” Richards said. “Or, are there enough resources that parents just aren’t utilizing?”
Andrea Mattress, a fifth-grade teacher at Logan, said she has had students miss class for trips to Disney World and the State Fair, because they didn’t study for tests and for hair appointments.
“That dumbfounds me. How can you justify taking your child out of school so they can get their hair done?” Mattress said. “I try to impress on my students how they need to set priorities, and unfortunately, teaching fifth grade, sometimes it’s the parents’ priorities. ... That reflects on the student because children model the parents.”
How can you justify taking your child out of school so they can get their hair done?
Andrea Mattress, Logan Elementary teacher
Last year, Richards said, the school had some students with perfect attendance but 40 or more tardies. The students came every day, but they didn’t value their school time enough to come on time, Richards said.
Logan had one of the district’s highest tardy rates last year, Richards said. At the same time, the school was right on par with the Richland 1’s average daily attendance rate, about 95 percent.
Attendance rates drop noticeably at most of the district’s five high schools. At C.A. Johnson High, the school with the worst average attendance rate in Richland 1, one-tenth of the student body was absent any given day last year, according to data provided by the school district.
“You have to have bodies in seats in order for students to take advantage of the instructional program,” said Toni Kelly Campbell, Richland 1’s coordinator of school social work and student attendance.
The district has an ambitious goal of reaching a 96 percent average daily attendance rate, she said. Schools use a variety of tactics to encourage attendance, including posters, honors and rewards such as an “atten-dance,” Kelly Campbell said.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to miss school time, educators recognize. There are illnesses, appointments, emergencies and other unexpected situations.
Logan now gives out the “Prowl Award” for students with no unexcused time missed from school.
Richards isn’t sure yet if the school’s new attendance policy is having the desired effect, but it does seem as though tardies are trending downward, he said.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.