The Coeur d’Alene School District has joined a nationwide effort making September Attendance Awareness Month as part of a year-long plan to reduce the number of absences and to promote a habit of good attendance in schools across the Coeur d’Alene area.
“It is our job to support our families in getting students to school and keeping students engaged so they want to remain in school,” Superintendent Matt Handelman said. “All our efforts to improve teaching and learning will not have the desired impact if kids are not regularly attending school. We want to get our students on a winning streak and feeling good about school.”
Students who are absent more than 10 percent of the year —about 18 days — have an increase in likeliness to receive lower grades and to drop out of school, according to Attendance Matters, a national initiative to bring attention to and help reduce absenteeism. Research indicates that attendance trends in the first grade can predict graduation rates.
Also according to Attendance Matters, poor health was the most prevalent reason for missing days with asthma being the biggest reason for chronic absenteeism.
Coeur d’Alene made recently building upgrades to help students and staff who have asthma. Upgrades were preformed at five of their oldest school buildings with a $32.7 million dollar voter-approved bond from 2012. Part of that upgrade included the refitting of the air ventilation systems.
“We have modernized our HVAC systems across our district to create healthy indoor air quality environments that help support our vulnerable students and staff who have asthma or other respiratory concerns,” said Laura Rumpler, the district’s public information officer.
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Low-income is another factor in chronic absenteeism and is considered to be the most impactful as non-attendance in early grades leads to lower reading scores. Studies of low-income populations and academics indicate that impoverished students mostly learn how to read in school and not at home. Factors that cause low-income families to miss days are because of unreliable transportation or chronic health issues. These barriers to regular attendance are being addressed by the district with the help of community partners.
In Idaho, 20 percent of fourth graders were considered to be chronically absent. This coincides with national records on missed days for school-aged youth. The average daily attendance at Coeur d’Alene schools was 93.5 percent. The goal of the district is to improve to 95 percent by the end of the year.
To reach their goal they are giving prizes to students with perfect attendance or near-perfect attendance the months of September to October. Prizes include gift cards, movie passes and an iPad.
“Attending school is essential; it sets the stage for life,” said Christa Hazel, board chair of Coeur d’Alene’s board of trustees. “When our schools graduate more students, on time, our communities and our economy are stronger. We have more people who are prepared for the workplace and value the importance of engaging in our community’s civic life.”
The district is asking school leaders, community advocates, parents and students to build a habit and culture of regular attendance and to identify and address barriers to getting kids to school. The Coeur d’Alene School District and the people of Attendance Works both agree that September is the month to spread the word about the importance of attendance.
“Research shows that students who miss two to four days in the first month of school are more likely to become chronically absent during the school year. By paying attention to absences early in the school year and early in a child’s academic career, we can turn around attendance and achievement,” said Hedy Chang, director of the non-profit Attendance Works.
School attendance is not only an indicator of academic achievement; it’s also a factor of dollars going towards the district. The better the attendance of a school in the district, the more funding the CDA schools receive for classroom supplies, staff and program support. The first reporting period for attendance is Friday, Nov. 6.
Parents can participate in the campaign by creating a pattern conducive to good attendance. Attendance Works suggest that having a regular bedtime, making sure backpacks and clothes are ready the night before, making sure your child is really sick before letting them stay home and having a back-up plan for getting the kids to school are all ways a parent can help prevent attendance issues from happening.