Sedalia School District 200 is putting its foot down when it comes to attendance, because missing class can lead to dropping out of school and the loss of important life skills.
One million students drop out of high school each year. That’s 7,000 high school students every day and one student every 29 seconds.
Katie Ellis, sophomore counselor at Smith-Cotton High School, said missing more than eight days in a semester can lead to a referral to the prosecuting attorney for the student.
“It’s in the student’s best interest to be at school every single day,” Ellis said. “And if they’re not here, they are missing important instruction.”
California’s Department of Education reports that high school dropouts are two-and-a half times more likely to be on welfare than high school graduates. Also, the Washington Post reports there are more than 40 national organizations that have teamed up with schools and community groups that call attention to the issue.
“The great importance of coming to school consistently is to not fall behind in your coursework,” said Ted Suhr, assistant principal at Smith-Cotton. “At the high school level, this is especially important because you could easily find yourself behind on credits and not on track to graduate in time. Even the simplest of jobs may require a diploma.”
When a student is not coming to school and reaching the parents is difficult or seems ineffective, the school counselors or administration officials may do a home visit to figure out why the student has been absent.
“As an administrator, you want to ensure the welfare and safety of the student is acceptable. You want to make sure they are OK,” Suhr said. “Yes, academics are extremely important, but so is the student’s well-being.”
But it’s not only the high school that pays attention to attendance.
As posted on greatschools.org, Gregory Hickman, director of the Rodel Community Scholars program, reports that “as early as kindergarten, behavioral differences are apparent between those who go on to graduate and those who drop out, with dropouts missing an average of 124 days by eighth grade.”
Theresa Eads, counselor at Skyline Elementary, talks about the precautions she takes when she notices a child has been missing school.
“When a child has four ‘unexcused’ absences during a quarter, I fill out an attendance policy letter and mail it to the child’s parents with attendance history attached,” Eads wrote in an email. “A second attendance letter is mailed if a child has six or more ‘unexcused’ absences.”
She added that a phone call is sometimes made to the parents. If the child continues to get more unexcused absences, a third letter is sent to the parents.
“Usually when parents receive the first letter, their child comes to school on time,” Eads wrote.
Amanda Jackson, counselor at Heber Hunt Elementary, said, “Students can easily fall behind, miss important concepts and not learn material vital to reading, writing and math. Students need to be at school in order to make friends (and) learn cooperation and problem-solving skills.”
She also said “missing school produces missing more school.” Students get behind on schoolwork and activities and when they come back, they are welcomed with loads of work and they feel lost.
“This causes anxiety and stress in students,” Jackson said. “It just makes them want to miss school even more.”
What is the matter with school that makes students want to skip? According to schoolengagement.com, school needs to be a place where the atmosphere makes students and parents feel welcome and safe. Schools should have an environment that enables students to feel successful in something.
“To entice attendance, I greet students daily as they arrive by cars,” Eads said regarding attendance at the elementary level. “Each classroom teacher greets their student in the gym and walks them to class. Once in the classroom, breakfast is served to everyone. The universal breakfast is new this year and has helped to improve attendance.”
At the high school level, Smith-Cotton Principal Wade Norton said, “We have tried to start to make the school a much warmer environment. We are going to add items to the walls and add some color. We are also going to add items like trophy cases. We will do these things to show the students that what they do is much appreciated.”
Students are rewarded for good attendance not only at the elementary schools such as Skyline, which awards students with things such as Tiger Tokens and lunch with a teacher, counselor or principal, but also at the high school.
Suhr explained that Norton is giving gift cards each month through a drawing for those who have excellent attendance.
“In the past, there have been other incentives like a free yearbook or free prom tickets for two. Also, there is recognition in the form of awards for perfect attendance and then that generally will be published in the Sedalia Democrat.”
This week, the Sedalia Democrat will publish stories written by students in the Journalistic Writing class at Smith-Cotton High School. Over the past few months, these young reporters learned to research their topics, conduct interviews and write in journalistic styles.