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Why Pay Attention to Attendance?

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Why does your child miss school? Ask parents this question and you might be surprised at the variety of answers you receive.
“He needs a break and a day off once in a while.”
“She has so much to do, she needs to stay home to catch up.”
“He has a lot of trouble getting up in the morning.”
“She’s only a third grader. Surely she won’t miss much.”
“He isn’t feeling well. And he really hasn’t been acting like himself lately.”
A day off here, a few tardies there — these absences may not seem like much, but according to Attendance Works (a website dedicated to advancing student success by reducing chronic absence), we should be paying more attention. When students miss school, they miss out on vital academic time and are at risk of falling behind and eventually failing. Studies have shown that elementary school students who are chronically absent score lower on standardized tests and are more likely to become high school dropouts later on.
Fortunately, Los Alamos High School has a program in place to monitor attendance and intervene to help students who are missing school get back on track towards success. The Truancy Intervention Program is supported by both the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and high school staff members who work as a team to provide a coordinated approach to improving school attendance.
Parents are notified by email and/or phone for each class a student has missed. Once a student has missed three classes without verification from parents, a letter of concern is sent which includes information from Attendance Works emphasizing the importance of regular attendance and how parents can help. If a student continues to be absent, the process continues through four more levels of intervention which include disciplinary action, meetings to identify causes and concerns, as well as information about outside services, and finally referral to the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) once the absences exceed the number allowed by the state.
Not surprisingly, this process requires significant time and effort from school staff and additional funding from the JJAB in order to be successful. While the high school program’s positive impact has been demonstrated by the number of students who get back on track, it can be difficult to reach students who have already formed negative habits. This points to the need to emphasize regular attendance in the elementary school years. Positive attitudes toward regular attendance are formed early in students’ academic careers – a time when parents play a vital role in getting their children to school on time, well-rested, and ready to learn.
As a parent, how can you help?
Start early! Emphasize the importance of attending school every single day, even at the elementary school level. To the extent possible, save travel and appointments for outside school hours. Allow for down time, adequate rest, and good nutrition. Help your young child establish good work habits and time management skills. For example, break down projects into small steps so that they don’t get behind, ask about homework and make sure it gets completed and turned in. Small efforts now can help students gain a sense of mastery and responsibility for their work and help them become engaged in their own learning. Encourage them to delve into their interests and go past the basic requirements. Seek out adult mentors and volunteer to be one.
Ask questions! Be curious about why your teen is skipping school. Has there been a change in their behavior? Could they be depressed or anxious? Are they falling behind and avoiding the consequences? Are their friends skipping classes? Is there a pattern to their truant behavior? Is technology interfering with their need for sleep? Is drug and/or alcohol use a possibility? What barriers are there to their success and enjoyment of school?
Set expectations! Don’t excuse your child when they don’t have a valid excuse for missing class. Do call them in when they are ill or at a medical appointment and you will avoid getting notified. Do praise your children for their efforts and successes. Don’t hesitate to restrict privileges until grades and attendance improve.
Ask for help! Your child may need some extra support and may not be willing to admit it. School counselors are a good place to start. The JJAB’s Youth Resource Advocate is also available to help families navigate appropriate interventions and support services. Academic time and Saturday School are in place to help students make up work and recover from what can seem like a hopeless situation.
“Truancy is both a problem and a symptom,” said Carter Payne, Assistant Principal at LAHS. Repeated absences are a problem as they create additional stress for the students and their families. Chronic truancy often results in an increased disengagement from school, academic failure, and opens up unstructured time which can lead students toward risk-taking behaviors such as drug use and criminal activity. In addition, truant students require intensive staff involvement and instructional time as administrators intervene and teachers go out of their way to help students recover from getting behind.
Truancy can be an indicator of more serious issues in a student’s life. As mentioned above, some of the most common reasons for skipping class are anxiety and/or depression, drug and/or alcohol use, and feeling overwhelmed with work or disengaged from school. An alert from the Truancy Intervention Program about your child’s absences is an invitation to explore what may be going on and an opportunity to work together to find support and solutions.
Resources include the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board for prevention, intervention and leadership programs (losalamosjjab.com), Los Alamos High School for academic support and guidance (laschools.net), Attendance Works for more information about the benefits of regular school attendance (attendanceworks.org) and JJAB’s Youth Resource Advocate for coordinated support and coaching of individual youth and families (jjabyra@gmail.com).
The Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB) funds and organizes programs that have a positive impact on youth, families, and the community.
More information about JJAB and its work can be found at losalamosjjab.com.
Kristine Koblentz
Los Alamos