Published : Friday, September 21, 2018 | 1:36 PM
September is Attendance Awareness Month in California and the Pasadena Unified School District has launched Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow, an annual year-long campaign that brings students and their families, schools, public agencies, and community partners together to improve school attendance. The District’s goal is to raise attendance to 97 percent this year.
“Students need to be in school to learn and get academic and social skills that prepare them to be successful later in life,” said Superintendent Brian McDonald. “Improving school attendance involves everyone: families, schools, and the broader community.”
Chronic absence – missing 10 percent of the school year – creates gaps in learning. Students in kindergarten and the early grades tend to miss the most school, with the problem peaking again in high school. Students who are chronically absent are 50 percent more likely to read below grade level, struggle with coursework, or get off-track for graduation. In 2017-2018, 12.74 percent of K-12 students in PUSD missed school more than than 10 percent of the school year.
“Because frequent absences are often a sign that the student is struggling with learning, social-emotional issues, or trauma in their home life, our approach is to support students and their families in overcoming barriers to school attendance,” said Assistant Superintendent Eric Sahakian, who leads the district’s School Support Services Department, a comprehensive network of social-emotional support programs that nurture the behavioral, emotional, and academic success of students.
The Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow campaign blends positive messages with a whole-child approach to identify the causes of school absences and to ensure that fewer students fall behind because of chronic absenteeism. Attendance toolkits with materials and activities, contests, and incentives to promote school attendance have been delivered to every school.
Attendance teams made up of school and district staff, teachers, counselors, and social workers identify and support students who may be academically at risk because of repeated absences. The teams have been expanded this year through PUSD’s California Learning Communities for School Success grant that supports practices and activities to improve attendance and academic outcomes for the district’s most vulnerable students, including foster youth and those at risk of dropping out of school.
Communicating directly with parents is also a priority. A school or class absence triggers phone calls and letters to parents, and sometimes home visits by school personnel. Seminars on how to improve school attendance are also available for parents and families.
According to state law, absences may be considered excused if they are due to personal illness, a medical or dental appointment, or the funeral of an immediate family member. Unexcused absences, such as vacations and family trips, are considered truancies.
Regardless of whether the absence is excused or unexcused, missed days affect student learning as well as the district’s average daily attendance, which is used by the state to determine levels of funding. Increasing attendance by just 1 percent will increase funding to PUSD schools by approximately $1.6 million.
Visit the Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow website for information and tips on how you can help improve school attendance.