Let's Engage on Attendance
Thu Oct 19 00:00:00 NDT 2017

Here we are only a couple of weeks from Halloween. It seems like we were only starting the school year just a short time ago.

There is a great deal of optimism in schools and classrooms are buzzing with the excitement that a new year brings. This is particularly acute in primary and elementary grades where interest in school is high and students are generally excited each day for the new opportunities and challenges ahead of them. We need to sustain that enthusiasm throughout the year, and while older students may be reluctant to overtly display their excitement for learning we need to ensure that that we do everything we can to sustain their interest. We know that engagement can dip in higher grades and we must do better. We also know that attendance patterns start as early as Kindergarten and from the first day of school an emphasis on good school attendance should take place within the family.

As educators we know that engagement is extremely important and can be the difference in student success. We know it is important for students of all grade levels and all academic abilities to be engaged in school and enjoying their academic pursuits. Educators understand our collective responsibility to create inspiring and welcoming learning places where students are actively engaged  participants in their own learning. But we also know that one of the main ways to ensure students become and remain engaged is for them to attend school regularly.

Goronwy Price, Chair of the Board of Trustees, wrote a letter to parents and guardians last month encouraging them to engage with their children about their studies and to ensure an emphasis is placed upon school and school attendance. I would like to join with Chair Price and emphasize the importance of school attendance. We know that a student who attends school is more likely to be successful; attending students can engage, learn, and acquire the skills they need to be successful in school and in life.

Our data tells us that 10% of our students missed 18 or more days unexcused last year - that is over three weeks of classes. This does not include lost days due to weather closures or illness which when combined, can equal a significant amount of lost time. What it comes down to for me is really quite simple: students should be in class when they are able to attend. There are 185 teaching days in the year which leaves 180 days to schedule other things such as vacations, appointments, or extra curricular activities. We recognize there are times when students cannot attend due to medical appointments or illness. Clearly, those matters must be attended to. But if possible, we recommend that appointments occur outside of school time.

There was a time when missing school for vacations or excursions involving sports or arts was an extremely rare occurrence, only reserved for the most exceptional circumstances. However, in recent times such excursions have become routine. This places an additional burden on the students who are missing school, the classroom teachers and, by extension, all students of the class who have their contact time diminished if the teacher has to focus energies on ‘catching up’ the students who were away. We would prefer family vacations and outside activities involving sports or arts to be scheduled during periods when school is not in session. We recognize that ‘school is not everything;’ activities outside of school are also extremely important educational opportunities and assist in a student’s social, emotional, and physical development. That said, school is scheduled for just half of the year, and for only five hours of those days. As educators, we feel strongly that this amount of time should be protected and taken full advantage of. We hope you agree.

It is the role of everyone involved in our school communities and the public education system to ensure our students value their time in the classroom and that they attend as much as possible. So in this light, I encourage our parents and guardians, administrators, teachers, support staff, and volunteers to emphasize attendance and engage with our students about their time in school. While not everyone has to volunteer for school council - though I certainly encourage more parents and guardians to serve in this extremely valuable role - simple gestures such as helping with a school fair, donating to the book drive, or helping with a school grounds clean up, set important examples.

The most important thing you can do is speak with your child. Ask about their day, take an interest in their school activities, and engage them in meaningful conversation about what is happening at school and within the school community.

Let's all work together to encourage positive engagement and good attendance. Our students and our province will be well served if we do.

All the best.

Tony


Tony Stack
CEO/Director of Education

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St. John's, NL · Canada · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706

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