Persistent absenteeism is a serious problem in Northern Ontario schools but with implementation of best practices and a long-term plan, it is solvable. The Here campaign is part of the solution. Unique to the Thunder Bay region, Here provides a cohesive visual approach with consistent messaging that helps build awareness of the importance of going to school every day. Dovetailed with individual board-wide initiatives and strategies, the Here campaign can help highlight and improve attendance at the elementary and secondary school level throughout the region.
Read on for a starting list of do’s and don’ts to get you thinking as you work to increase attendance at your school.
Do address absenteeism right away. Early identification of school attendance issues is just as crucial to a child’s progress as identification of learning difficulties. Ensure that interventions are immediate, non-threatening, and persistent. School administrators and supporting staff can work to deal with the underlying causes before absence becomes ingrained.
Don’t simply tell parents to send their children. Detail the services, supports, and positive experiences that will make them want to. Insist on excellent teaching with solid school programming including more experiential hands-on opportunities and more student-centric learning.
Do celebrate good and improved attendance by providing regular recognition and rewards to students and families. Don’t focus on perfect attendance since children who struggle the most will be left out of such awards. Incentives and contests take advantage of the fact that students often respond better to concrete rewards and peer pressure than they do to lectures from parents and teachers.
Don’t give up. It’s never too late to encourage students (and parents) to seek help when they are behind in school. Schools can provide extra help to get a child caught up and help them feel better about showing up for school.
Do ensure that your school community engages students and parents with a warm and welcoming environment that offers compelling learning opportunities and programs.
Don’t use negative tactics that are punitive, blaming, or threatening to compel attendance. Offer extra-curricular activities that appeal to many different kinds of children. Students will have a new way to see their teacher while having fun doing something they like.
Do help families understand the positive impact of good attendance and the negative effects of chronic absenteeism. Even excused absences can cause children to fall behind. By providing consistent and intentional messaging regarding attendance expectations from early years and on, families can build the habit of attendance in early grades and improve their children’s chances of graduating.
Don’t assume that parents don’t care if their children attend school. Some parents may not know how to help their child get to school or may have exhausted their personal resources. Encourage parents to learn more about parenting by recommending local courses and seminars such as the Triple P Positive Parenting Program offered through a number of regional organizations such as health units and children’s centres.
Do model and teach resiliency, self-management, organization, and staying out of trouble skills. Use September to teach children how to be students, how to cope when things are difficult, how to persevere, how to maintain a growth mindset. Schools need to ensure that children have basic life skills, develop emotional and social intelligence, and learn self-regulation.
Do develop better processes for tracking absenteeism and responding to it. The problem seems overwhelming and has been ignored from a systemic perspective for too long. Implementing new processes is hard. Schools that track attendance more closely have better results. Dedicate staff time to attendance.
Do employ top-down team building by creating principal-led attendance teams that meet regularly to analyze attendance data and coordinate efforts to reduce persistent absence. Early data can trigger a response that starts with personalized early outreach that helps identify barriers to attendance — hunger, health, shelter, transportation or other challenges — and the supports or resources that would help improve attendance.
Do train staff, especially teachers, in how to deal with persistent absenteeism especially in the elementary grades. Use mental health professionals and behavioural modification specialists to work with staff to learn how to de-escalate situations and create calm, welcoming environments where all students can be successful.
Do meet basic needs first – food, clothing, shelter, after-school care, transportation, or other challenges.
Do use positive messaging to help parents and students realize that daily attendance is key to reaching their dreams of a successful future. Help families understand that regular attendance should be a high priority as early as preschool.
Do make referrals into the community for additional support and services for children that need more help than your school can provide.
Do use engagement strategies to increase student attendance like creating family/community gatherings around food and entertainment in casual, culturally appropriate environments rather than traditional parent-teacher meetings. Employ food, games, and music.
Do develop a separate space for kids to go where they can be with like-minded kids in a safe, caring environment but still be at school.
Do ensure that every child has a champion. Caring adults developing a one-to-one relationship with every student and/or parent is the best first step. Students should expect that teachers, administrators, and community agencies are caring and friendly. Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. You must discover what reason children need to come to school.
Do mobilize a community coalition to help communities understand that all students MUST be in school every day. Networks already organized to reform schools, promote literacy, reduce dropout rates, address health needs and improve communities could offer partnership and leadership around addressing chronic absence. Such a coalition could include:
Do increase Indigenous content in schools – both environment and curriculum. Children need to see themselves in the place where they learn.
Do partner with mental health organizations in order to address a growing need to support students who suffer from debilitating anxiety and other mental illnesses
The causes of chronic absenteeism are vast and varied. Therefore, the way we communicate needs to match our specific goal. The “Messaging Matrix” below offers a cross-section of various headlines and ‘call to actions’ across objective type and tone. You’ll find these message types used throughout your HERE toolkit.
|Informative||Students who miss two days a month in elementary school stand a 60% chance of dropping out in grade nine.||Missing 10% of school days drastically affects academic success.||Absence in the early grades affects fundamental reading and math skills.||Missing 10 minutes per day means a student will miss 8 weeks of school a year.|
|Outreach||Having trouble making it to school? Talk to a teacher.||Feeling overwhelmed and behind? Speak to a teacher.||Is there something standing in your way of getting to school? Talk to a teacher.||Does school make you feel nervous or anxious? Speak with a teacher.|
|Helpful||We’re HERE for you/them||We’re HERE to help||We’re HERE for your/their success|
|Encouraging||Strive to be HERE||Improve success by being HERE||We need you HERE|
|Optimistic||Being HERE matters||Your future starts HERE|
|Focused||Be HERE||Let’s get them HERE|
© Here Toolkit 2017