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‘You gotta be there every day’

Ceremony Promotes Importance of Attendance to Students, Parents


Parkview Elementary students shined, smiles spreading from ear to ear, as they walked down the red carpet laid out for them during a celebration of their success in getting to school nearly every day, all day.

Along with the grand Hollywood-style entrance, names of 260 kindergartners through fourth-graders were announced as students walked on stage in the Dan Heintzelman Fine Arts Center, honored for being in class 95 percent or more of the timeduring the first marking period. They then watched a movie with their families and went home with goodie bags. Beverly Reformed and Wyoming Park United Methodist churches sponsored the event.

Attendance, Achievement go Hand-in-hand

According to information from Attendance Works, which works to reduce chronic student absence, research shows the following:

  • One in 10 students in kindergarten and first grade are chronically absent, missing 18 or more days a school year. In some schools, it’s as high as one in four.
  • Two in 10 low-income students miss too much school. (At Parkview, about 87 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.)
  • More than two in 10 homeless students are chronically absent.
  • Four in 10 transient students miss too much school when families move.

The correlation to achievement is clear, according to a California study cited by Attendance Works. Students who were chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade were far less likely to read with proficiency by the end of third grade. Sixty-four percent of students with good attendance could read proficiently at the end of third grade, compared with:

  • 43 percent of students with at-risk attendance (missed more than nine days in both kindergarten and first grades);
  • 41 percent who were chronically absent in kindergarten or first grade;
  • 17 percent who were chronically absent in both kindergarten and first grade.

The celebration, the first of three planned this school year, promotes family involvement in attendance, said Teresa Dood, Kent School Services Network community coordinator She works on the school’s attendance team with Principal Katie Jobson, social worker Micah Bell, KSSN clinician Staci Wolters, and Sarah Wildman, success coach for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Attendance is a critical piece to success in school, Dood said. “Kids miss critical building blocks when they miss school and days add up so quickly.”

About 8 percent of Parkview students were chronically absent for a range of reasons during the first marking period. The team takes multiple steps to remove barriers that are keeping children from school.

Those include transportation; unstable housing and homelessness; a parent who works third shift; and illness, anxiety and mental health issues. The staff goes as far as to help with car repairs, walk students to school, and connect families with health-care professionals. They make sure classrooms are stocked with hand sanitizer, tissues and cleaning wipes.

Aligned with County-wide Goals

The countywide goal is for students to miss no more than five days per school year, said Mark Larson, Kent ISD’s truancy and attendance coordinator. Last year, Kent County education leaders — including a group of district superintendents, representatives from Kent County Juvenile Court, the Kent County School Justice Partnership and others — created a new policy with common definitions.

According to a study in Berrien County, replicated in other areas, top reasons students are kept home include parent-diagnosed illness, which includes the sniffles or other mild symptoms; routine dentist and doctors’ appointments for which parents pull students out midday and then don’t return; and parents placing a lack of value in attendance, including having older children stay home with younger siblings.

“When you look at it through that lens, it’s important the whole family values regular and consistent attendance,” Larson said.

Superintendent Tom Reeder applauds as first-grader Kiara Thomas enters the building
Superintendent Tom Reeder applauds as first-grader Kiara Thomas enters the building

Keeping Track of Days Missed

At Parkview, Dood and the staff review attendance records weekly, noticing patterns of absence early.

“Attendance is often an iceberg issue and really there are a lot of underlying things the family is struggling with,” Dood said. “When we talk to families, we try to look at it in a solution-focused manner: ‘What can we do to help you?’

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to attendance, it really needs to be individual.”

Sometimes the solution is just to stress the importance of attendance, beginning in kindergarten, to parents who have an “it’s just kindergarten” mentality. Stressing appropriate bedtimes is also important.

Kristin Jacob and son, kindergartner Josiah, walk the red carpet to applause
Kristin Jacob and son, kindergartner Josiah, walk the red carpet to applause

At the Parkview celebration, parents posed for photos with their children. Tim Agema, father to third-grader Ellie and first-grader Landon, said attendance is a priority for them. The reason? “Of course, education,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. You gotta be there every day.”

“Once you fall behind it’s hard to keep up. Every day matters,” added Kristin Jacob, mom to kindergartner Josiah.

Second-grader Sa’riyah Brown also knows why it’s important to be in class: “If you’re not there you don’t get to be smarter.”

CONNECT

SNN article on Kent ISD attendance rules

Parents also deserve recognition for making sure their students are in school as much as possible
Parents also deserve recognition for making sure their students are in school as much as possible

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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