School attendance needs to be community priority

School counselors receive a lot of mail from programs offering to help our students succeed. We hear from scholarship search companies, web designers, financial advisors, and transition specialists, all of whom have tips and suggestions for supporting our students. Today, I opened information from one such company that wanted me to buy brochures to share with our incoming freshmen and their parents about making a good transition to high school.

The first tip this brochure shared was that the student should be in school every day. It went on to say that school attendance is the No. 1 factor in predicting student success. My peers and I couldn’t agree more. Educators have known this fact for years. It is in every piece of research regarding the contributing factors that lead to school success. The more astounding fact, though, is that this concept — attending school every day — is such a difficult one for some students, parents, and other family members to grasp.

Coming off of our recent spring break, I was reminded of how many students leave early or return late from a scheduled school break. Even after moving to two week vacations three times per year, plus eight weeks of summer vacation, we see students and families who take extra days because of travel cost savings or once-in-a-lifetime experiences that require days beyond our already generous vacation time.

At the upper levels, this may mean the student is missing midterm or final exams that require additional teacher time to give and grade. While I understand that students will miss school for a variety of unavoidable reasons and that many families will ensure their students make up missing work, I am most concerned about students who make the conscious choice to miss, not just for vacation purposes, but because school is difficult or they have no desire to attend.

We have too many students who make a habit of missing school and that leads to detrimental consequences the farther along a student goes. It is my belief that a student’s attendance rate is not reflective of the school alone; it is a reflection of how the school’s community values the educational process. And, learning is a process; each day’s lessons are based on the day before and missing a piece of the process puts a student at risk of creating what educators call “learning gaps.”

When a student misses too many days of school these learning gaps weaken the educational foundation to a point of the student feeling overwhelmed by the missing knowledge and, thus, an attendance death spiral begins for the student. The student no longer feels comfortable in the classroom because the material has surpassed them so they beg not to go to school, the parent chooses not to fight the daily battle, the student misses more school which creates even greater learning gaps and, soon, we have an at-risk student. The inevitable consequence is that many at-risk students fail to graduate.

In my experience, most at-risk students who attend school regularly will find a way to graduate. It may not be on time with their educational cohort, but they will eventually complete. At-risk students who are that way because of a lack of attendance rarely earn the credits they need to finish high school ever. When communities work together and place a collective value on the education of their children, however, great things can happen for these early, at-risk students.

The elementary and intermediate level mentoring programs using adults from the community need to continue through high school. Employers need to support parents in encouraging strong attendance, and as a community, we need to hold both parents and students accountable for attending school.

The future lives of these students are too important, and all of us, not just the school community, need to care enough to make it a priority.

Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at kimskile@gmail.com.