Desert Sands Unified School District is part of a nationwide effort to celebrate Attendance Awareness Month in September, pledging to raise awareness about the value of regular school attendance and focus on reducing chronic absenteeism in the new school year.

Good attendance is essential to academic success. But far too many students are at risk academically because they are chronically absent. Chronic absence is described as missing 10 percent of the school year—or about 18 days—for any reason, excused or unexcused. That’s the point at which absenteeism begins to affect student performance.

Nationally, 5 million to 7.5 million children miss nearly a month of school in excused and unexcused absences every year. Beginning as early as kindergarten or even preschool, chronic absence predicts lower third grade reading scores. By middle school it is a warning sign that students will fail key classes and drop out of high school.

This is not just a matter of truancy. Many children, especially in the early grades, miss too much school because of chronic health problems, unreliable transportation or housing moves—barriers that we can help families address. To assist families with overcoming barriers to regular school attendance, Desert Sands Unified School District has a team of full-time staff dedicated to supporting student attendance. The Attendance Intervention Team (AIT) regularly monitors student attendance, meeting individually with families of chronically absent students to discuss concerns and develop individualized support plans.

The AIT also works to help staff, students and families understand the impact that missing just 2 days per month can have on academic outcomes. The latest addition to the AIT are two Student Engagement Specialists, who will be focusing on students who have dropped-out or are at high-risk of dropping out of high school.  The AIT staff are highly dedicated to students and their families, a dedication which has earned the team recognition by the California Department of Education as a Model School Attendance Review Board (SARB) program.

In September, schools, city agencies, community nonprofits, faith-based groups, businesses, and others around the nation are committing time and resources to raise public awareness, map local attendance gaps and work with community partners to improve school attendance starting as soon as children enter school.

“September is a particularly good time to focus on attendance,” said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a national nonprofit dedicated to improve school attendance “Research shows that students who miss two to four days in the first month of school are more likely to become chronically absent during the school year. By paying attention to absences early in the school year and early in a child’s academic career, we can turn around attendance and achievement.”

How can parents help to reduce absenteeism or tardiness? Research shows that school attendance is habit forming.

  • Make daily attendance at school a family priority.
  • Ensure that children keep a regular bedtime and establish a morning routine (including sell-balanced breakfast).
  • Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before.
  • Avoid scheduling vacations or doctor appointments when school is in session.
  • Develop back up plans for getting to school if something comes up.
  • Keep children healthy. Encouraging them to maintain good hygiene including hand-washing, not sharing beverages or food, eating well-balanced meals, and dressing appropriate to the weather.

This year, let’s all work together as a community (school and business leaders, parents, students, teachers, doctors, neighbors) to ensure our students are healthy and develop great attendance habits. Every student, every day, on-time!