Education: Attendance Awareness Month

At United Way of Story County (UWSC), we believe that when we are United together, we can find solutions that make long-lasting, positive change in the lives of individuals and families, which is why our 2018 LIVE UNITED Campaign theme is “In order to live better, we must LIVE UNITED.” Because when we LIVE UNITED, everyone wins.
Over the next three months, our columns will focus on how donations made to UWSC are used to advance our community in the areas of health, education, and financial stability. Since September happens to be Attendance Awareness Month, this week we will be focusing on what UWSC does to ensure that school attendance rates are increasing throughout Story County.
Through our collaboration Story County Reads, as part of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR), we have a deep stake in working within our community’s school districts to figure out barriers that our students have to attending school every day, and how we can be a part of the solution.
Attendance Works, a partner of CGLR, has a breadth of information available to not only United Ways, but schools and parents as well. They define chronic absence as missing 10%, about 18 days, or more in one year. If a child misses 18 days each year, just 2 days a month, they lose a half a year of school by the time they are in 4th grade. UWSC and Story County Reads is helping to spread the word on how devastating it can be to a child’s success tomorrow, if they aren’t in school today.
Back in 2015 Justin Jeffs, principal of Kate Mitchell Elementary, partnered with UWSC to explore the reasons behind why students were chronically absent, and how we can all work together on a solution. The Attendance Toolkit was born and put into place at Kate Mitchell. This toolkit included everything from school incentives to community programs that can help create an atmosphere of respect and understanding regarding student attendance issues. Jeffs has since helped us to lead the drive to get the toolkit into all of the Ames school district buildings, fostering accountability and collaboration between the school staff and its’ families. Story County Reads has a target goal of supplying the toolkit to the other six districts in Story County by next September.
“We can’t help improve attendance rates unless we know why the students are missing school.” says Malai Amfahr, Story County Reads Coordinator. “We want to work with other school districts to develop a data sharing plan to understand why are children aren’t in school, figure out the real reasons behind their absences, and then push out strategies with our partners through programming. Whether it be health, transportation, or outside factors, we can provide support.”
Attendance Works states that poor attendance has a great influence on whether a child reads proficiently at the end of third grade, and by sixth grade, chronic absence becomes the leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school. By investing in our youngest students, we can create change for our workforce, our community, and our families. Story County Reads is currently defining performance measures to ensure success in its goal of increased attendance and implementing action strategies for providing a community wide campaign for attendance awareness.
Next week, we will share more about our work in education through summer learning.