Westwood Elementary School does more than just the “Get your Selfie” to school campaign to reward good attendance – third grade teacher Paul Anderson is just one of the faculty members doing their part. His homeroom has the highest attendance rate in the first nine weeks of school; 14 out of his 20 students (or 21 as one student recently moved away) have perfect attendance.
In celebration of this achievement, the entire class was treated to AirHeads bars.
In Anderson’s homeroom and in his split classes with Michelle Husted, the pair celebrates the baby steps that helps their classes achieve larger goals. They have two jars in their room, one filled with unearned marbles and one to be filled with those marbles. Every compliment the class receives from other faculty or staff members, acts of kindness or good teamwork allows the class to move one marble into the empty jar. Once all 4o marbles are moved over, the class to pick their reward, which can range from a pajama party, a pizza party or an extra recess period, Anderson explained.
This reward system not only emphasizes good deeds, but it improves the classroom culture and adds fun to learning.
“We have a really good classroom culture. We get it. We love each other,” Anderson said.
“If they love each other, if they know I support them and Ms. Husted supports them, they’ll want to come to school,” he added.
In his homeroom, Anderson promises a donut party if his class can have one full week of perfect attendance. Last year, this only happened once. This year, he’s had to buy his class donuts twice already. Anderson isn’t sure what exactly it is – if the high attendance is something he is doing, if it’s this particular group of students or if everyone is just staying healthier this year.
Regardless, he stresses the importance of being in class every day.
“You’ve got to be there to learn,” he said. The third grade teacher doesn’t assign much homework – the majority of what goes home is work that wasn’t able to get done during the school day. So, in Anderson’s words, “if you miss it, you miss it.”
He added that lessons are hands-on and many of them are fun, so if you miss school, “you miss the fun.”
Anderson does know that some kids need to miss school for various reasons such has illness or funerals. He shared that one of his students once told him that they weren’t in school that day because they didn’t have clean socks.
“Don’t be out of school for something crazy,” he said. “Don’t be out of school if you don’t want to put on your shoes.”
He stressed that attendance is important.
“Without coming to school, students aren’t going to learn…Don’t we all want to be successful?” he asked.
Anderson hopes to keep attendance high for the remainder of the school year.
Keeping kids in school
Efforts like Anderson’s helps fight the areas chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism is when a student is absent 18 or more days, which amounts to losing 10 percent of total instruction time. If a student misses five days, they are considered truant.
Truancy is required by law to be recorded. Parents are notified by a written to notice. Once sent out, the parent has three days to contact the school and ensure their child attends class.
In the case of chronic absenteeism, if the student’s attendance does not approve, legal action will be taken.
Under Tennessee law (TCA§ 49-6-3009): “Any parent, guardian or other person who has control of a child, or children, and who violates this part commits educational neglect, which shall be a Class C misdemeanor. Each day's unlawful absence constitutes a separate offense.”
The Coffee County School District website sums up the law and their adjacent policy. According to its website, “Possible Legal Action: For each day the child or children have missed school without the proper excuse a parent may be fined $50.00) or 30 days in jail for each separate day of unexcused absence. Court cost will also be assessed against the parent case.”
Manchester City School’s attendance policy is currently under review and will be posted with the latest Tennessee Attendance Law, according to its website.