RVA Parenting: A warning about school absences

RVA Parenting: A warning about school absences

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Right now, local schools are making a major push to encourage increased attendance after new data suggests more than 10,000 students in our region had six or more unexcused absences at school.

School has only been in session for a few weeks, but there is already a big focus on keeping kids in school from day-to-day.

The people who study absences say chronic absences can lead to a lot of big problems for students.

"It's more of a problem than we knew several years ago," said Hope Murphy, a supervisor of school social workers with Chesterfield County Public Schools. Murphy is working with the initiative to increase student attendance.

To put the problem in context, one in ten students nationally is missing a month of school, and this area is not excluded as a video made for use here in Richmond demonstrates.

"Absences in kindergarten lead to difficulties in reading in third grade," the speaker says. "Absences in sixth grade is a warning sign that they will drop out of high school."

"A day here or there, they start to feel behind, they start to maybe worry a little more about their grades," explained Murphy. "When they miss the instruction, they have to figure out, 'How am I going to do this work?'"

Officials say attendance can be an important warning sign for parents, as well.

"Sometimes when a child is anxious, it appears that they are sick, it affects their stomachs," Murphy said. "They start to feel anxious about going to school. Or sometimes, if students have a hard time getting out of bed every morning, if they know they've gotten a lot of sleep, you know, it could be depression."

Experts recommend talking to your kid, finding out whether bullying, peer problems, or feeling overwhelmed might be giving them physical symptoms.

Then, take those concerns to a school leader or counselor so you can help your child work through the problem and get back to learning.

Parents are also being encouraged to schedule appointments outside of school times when possible and to keep talking to your kids. You'll also notice the effort is using this hashtag #SchoolEveryDay to keep kids informed.

Also, September is considered National Attendance Awareness Month, which highlights how all school absences can impact a child's academic performance.

While local schools are addressing the number of unexcused absences, new national efforts have started focusing on chronic absence – the total of how much school a student misses for any reason, including sick days, excused absences and suspensions.

Measuring chronic absence is a new metric for schools to help them identify students who could be facing academic trouble, or could eventually dropout. It is an alarming, largely overlooked problem.

What's the problem?

Nationally, 1 in 10 students miss nearly a month of school — that's 10 percent of the school days. That's chronic absence. Too often, we don't realize how quickly absences add up: Missing just two days every month can cause a child to fall too far behind.

What are contributing factors?

Low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others often for reasons beyond their control, such as unstable housing, safety concerns, unreliable transportation and a lack of access to health care and clothes.

Parents face many overwhelming factors while living in poverty and some find it difficult to make education a priority.

Is it a local problem in the city and county schools?

Yes! More than 10,000 students in our region had six or more unexcused absences in the 2014 - 2015 school year. National research shows that students with that many unexcused days are most likely to also be chronically absent when you add in their excused absences, days missed due to illness, suspensions or for any other reason.

Why should I limit the number of days my child misses school, if they are excused absences?

A day here or a day there may not seem like a lot, but when you add those absences up, there can be severe consequences. Chronic absence — missing 10 percent of the school year, or just 2-3 days every month — can translate into third-graders unable to master reading, sixth-graders failing courses and ninth-graders dropping out of high school.

What can I do to help my child get to school on time and stay all day?

  • Schedule medical, dental and other appointments before or after school.
  • Don’t let your child stay home unless he/she is truly sick. Keep in mind complaints of a stomach ache or headache can be anxiety and not a reason to stay home.
  • Set a regular bedtime and morning routine. Prepare clothes and backpacks the night before.
  • Find out if your child feels safe from bullies and other threats.
  • Encourage your child to participate in sports, clubs and other quality after-school activities that encourage or require school attendance.
  • Stay on top of your child's social contacts. Peer pressure can lead to skipping school.
  • Talk to teachers and counselors if you notice sudden changes in your child's behavior.
  • Strengthen connections to your child's school and community so that they can best support you and your child's needs.

Where can I learn more?

Visit www.BridgingRichmond.com or call Bridging Richmond at 804-827-4581.

Bridging Richmond is a regional partnership working with local school districts, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, YMCA of Greater Richmond and VCU to improve attendance rates.

RECAP: When students miss too many days of school, they fall behind and struggle to keep up with their classmates. Whether the days missed are due to illness, truancy or for any other reason, the end result for the student is the same — learning time is lost.

Pay attention to your child's attendance at school and help them build the habit of good attendance early because it is a life skill that will help them succeed in the workforce.

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