One of the greatest challenges for educators is getting children to show up for school.
While it’s widely known that as students get older, they are more likely to skip classes, the trend of young children being chronically absent from school has become cause for concern.
Truant kindergartners, first-, second- and third-graders are severely at risk for falling behind in school and, as a result, having an even harder time catching up to where they should be.
September is Attendance Awareness month, an initiative highlighted by Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild Friday.
“One of my favorite lines in life is from Woody Allen who said that ‘96 percent of life is showing up,’ and when it comes to school, showing up is the first and critical factor,” Rothschild said.
It is especially important now that a new law has taken effect that will prevent children who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade from being promoted to the fourth grade.
“The most basic thing a parent can do to help their child learn is to make sure they get to school regularly and on time,” Rothschild said. “Chronic absenteeism, which means missing 10 percent or more of school whether excused or unexcused, puts children at a big disadvantage.
“When those children start to fall behind as early as kindergarten it becomes a bigger disadvantage.”
In Tucson’s largest school district, on average, nearly 94 percent of the 51,000 children enrolled show up for school. While the remaining six percent — roughly 3,000 students — includes a certain percent of expected absences due to doctor appointments or sick days, the majority tend to be the group of kids who are chronically absent, said TUSD Accountability and Research Director David Scott.
As a result, Tucson Unified schools have been directed to be on the lookout for chronically absent children because it can be an indicator of potential failure, Scott said.
The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona has been working to battle chronic absenteeism, said President and CEO Tony Penn.
“Regular school attendance is a corner stone of school success and it is critical to all children,” Penn said. “Research has found that one in 10 kindergarten and first grade students nationwide miss nearly a month a year in school. That’s way too much and it’s hard to make that up.”
The organization is working to improve communications between schools, parents and students to promote positive behaviors and to have early detection systems in place to reduce chronic absenteeism, Penn said.
In addition to parents taking responsibility for ensuring that children get to school, the legislature also needs to step up, Rothschild said.
“Our legislature has to provide funding to schools for outreach when children are chronically absent,” he said. “(Districts) are sorely in need of the people who can go out and talk to these students, talk to the parents and bring them back to the schools.”