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School success starts with showing up

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Guest Column, Published in the ABQ Journal
By Angelo Gonzales / Executive Director, Mission: Graduate
Monday, October 9th, 2017 at 12:02am

The beginning of the school year is a time to focus our community’s attention on the importance of school attendance. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a business owner or a concerned community member, we all have a role to play in supporting students’ academic success through good attendance habits.

At Mission: Graduate, we are working in partnership with local school districts and other community organizations to improve high school and college graduation rates. Helping more students graduate from high school is a complex challenge, because the underlying causes of low graduation rates are so multifaceted.

But there’s good news. Research consistently shows that one of the best predictors of high school graduation is simply showing up to school. In other words, if we can improve attendance rates, we can and will make substantial progress toward solving the graduation challenge.

Unfortunately, national research from Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center demonstrates that we have a chronic absence problem across our nation, with over 20 percent of schools experiencing high rates of chronic absenteeism and the highest rates in schools with large numbers of low-income students. Chronic absence is a measure of attendance defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. That translates to missing 18 days over the course of the school year, or as few as two days a month, on average.

To address this challenge, Mission: Graduate has partnered with New Mexico PBS and local school districts, including Albuquerque Public Schools, to get the word out that “Every Day Matters.” It makes no difference if an absence is excused or unexcused; missing as few as two days a month means falling behind in school. We want every parent and every student to know this important message and to understand that there are academic consequences to not attending school regularly.

While raising awareness among students and families is a key solution, schools also have an important role to play in addressing this challenge. Recently Mission: Graduate and NMPBS brought together more than 240 people, representing 40 schools and five school districts, for an all-day conference aimed at helping schools dig deep into their chronic-absence data in order to develop their own school-based attendance success plans.

Conference participants will be going back to their schools to implement their best ideas for decreasing chronic absenteeism, starting with the formation of school-based attendance teams. Each team will use data to identify the root causes of the problem and to develop highly targeted solutions based on what the data are telling them. It’s important that schools have a mix of preventative schoolwide strategies in place, as well as more targeted support for the students with the highest rates of chronic absenteeism.

I am encouraged by the energy and commitment that our principals, teachers and school staff continue to bring to this complex challenge. They recognize the critical importance of good attendance habits, and they are organizing themselves to tackle the chronic absence problem in our community head on.

But they can’t do it alone. Across the nation, every school that is making progress in reducing chronic absence rates is doing so in partnership with the broader community. In order to do better at getting our children to school, we need every parent, service provider, business and community-based organization to think about the ways in which they can partner with our local schools.

Parents can show children that they value good attendance by scheduling appointments and vacations outside of school hours, helping them prepare for school by laying out clothes and packing backpacks the night before, and establishing bedtime and morning routines. Having a transportation backup plan and keeping in touch with teachers are good habits to develop and continue throughout their school career.

Businesses can help their teenage employees to keep reasonable working hours that allow them to get to school on time and ready to learn. They can encourage employees who are parents to support the good attendance habits of their children.

Individual community members can mentor students either formally or informally by promoting awareness on the importance of attending school every day.

We all know a child, either in our families or in our community, that we care about. In our own way, let’s take the time to help them understand the importance of going to school.

We can all play a role. What role will you play?

Mission: Graduate is an initiative of the United Way of Central New Mexico committed to a goal of 60,000 new graduates with college degrees and certificates in central New Mexico by the year 2020. #60Kby2020 #EveryDayMatters