By Monica Wilson
For The Herald
Mary is a preschooler and missed more than 36 school days last year. Bailey attends middle school and was absent from school for 19 days. Pablo did not attend high school classes for 28 days last school year. What do these children have in common?
Students who miss 10 percent or more school days are considered chronically absent. That is the equivalent of 18 days per year, or two days per month. Each day Mary, Bailey and Pablo were absent they lost the opportunity to learn. Every absence — whether excused or unexcused — has a significant impact on students’ ability to read by third grade, as well as their likelihood to graduate high school. Going to school every day is essential to our children’s academic success.
Unfortunately, there are far too many children like Mary, Bailey and Pablo in Washington state who have missed opportunities to learn because they weren’t in class every day. Washington state ranks second-worst in the nation for chronic absenteeism. Nearly 17 percent of the students in our state are chronically absent from school. When a day of school is missed, learning is disrupted. This not only hurts the child who missed school but also influences the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom. Ultimately, our community is affected when our children do not reach their full potential or worse, drop out of school.
The reasons for chronic absences include health problems, bullying, transportation difficulties, housing problems and the belief that missing school will not have much effect on learning. Some absences are unavoidable. Occasionally children get sick and need to stay home. What is important is that children attend school as regularly as possible. We need to look at each child and address the reasons why he or she is missing school.
Studies show that as early as preschool good attendance matters for school success. About 1 in 10 kindergarteners and first-graders are chronically absent, and by third grade only 15 percent of chronically absent children read at grade level. By sixth grade, chronic absenteeism is a warning sign for dropping out of high school. Chronically absent ninth-graders are much more likely to fail at least one core course (math, English or science). Attendance and failing a core course in the ninth grade are two of the strongest predictors of whether or not a student graduates from high school.
“About 21 percent of (Washington state) students are not graduating high school, and absenteeism plays a huge role in that,” said Chris Reykdal, state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
A Northeastern University study found that each high school dropout costs taxpayers $292,000, on average over the course of their lives. More than 80 percent of incarcerated people are high school dropouts. This makes chronic absenteeism an issue that affects every member of our community.
The good news is that chronic absenteeism is a solvable problem. Parents, school administrators, public agencies, community organizations, faith-based institutions, elected officials and the business community all need to send the same message: Every school day matters.
Students and families experiencing chronic absenteeism are more likely to respond when they hear a consistent message across Snohomish County. It also sends the message that we care about our children and their future. Encouraging regular school attendance is one of the most powerful ways our community can prepare a child for success in school and in life. When our community makes school attendance a priority we help our children reach their academic potential. We increase their chances of graduating from high school and help our children feel more connected to their community. We are setting them up for a strong future.
“We can reduce intergenerational poverty by helping all parents understand the value of daily school attendance.” states Fred Safstrom, chief executive officer of Housing Hope. “When we improve educational outcomes for our children we improve the stability of a household. Everyone wins.”
Please help send the message that going to school every day matters for success in school and life. A good education is the key to a productive life and attendance is a key component to a successful education. Let Mary, Bailey and Pablo know you care, and spread the word.
Monica Wilson is a school psychologist with Housing Hope’s Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center and is program coordinator for its school attendance program.
Getting kids to class
Several Snohomish County social service agencies and Everett Public Schools have come together through funding from United Way to work collaboratively to improve school or childcare attendance specifically for homeless families, starting as early as birth.
For more information about the project, contact Monica Wilson at 425-347-6556, ext. 222 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.