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You can’t be successful if you’re not at school

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with an insightful young man who just graduated from high school. When looking back over his time in the classroom, he attributed his success to the student support specialist working in his school, who wondered why he was coming to school late, or often times not at all. He then shared how she didn’t just point out his flaws and walk away — she invested in him and made sure he was in school each day — and on time. 

Before someone made a focused effort to intervene, this recent high school graduate didn’t place a big priority on school; mostly because he didn’t feel like he could be successful. The change started with the first step: showing up. He noticed that teachers could help him find his strengths and really focus him on the goals that ultimately led to his graduation. In short, he learned that you can’t be successful if you’re not in school. 

While state attendance rates look strong in North Carolina at 95 percent, too many students are still missing. Take for example a school with 1,000 students. If this school has an average daily attendance of 95 percent, there are still 50 students, or nearly two full classrooms of students, who are missing each day. Though many of these students aren’t habitually absent, what about those who are?  Simple. If they aren’t in school, they aren’t learning.

September is heralded National Attendance Awareness Month for good reason: being present in school is a critical predictor of student success. Research tells us that, in the month of September, if a student misses between two-to-four days, they are five times more likely to be chronically absent than a student who misses less than two days.

Chronically absent students miss 18 or more days of school per year. They aren’t engaged in learning, and their ability to grow academically could be significantly stifled or delayed. Now, if you combine poor attendance and poverty, students facing these challenges often have lower academic achievement in reading and math. We can’t let attendance become yet another barrier to success for any student, particularly for those facing such overwhelming obstacles. Attendance is one barrier we can remove.

Ask my friend Makayla. She recently began the 5th grade and set a goal of perfect attendance. Last year she missed 23 days of school, but she doesn’t want that for the future. I am rooting for her because I know it will lead to a lifetime of success.

Take the September challenge and ensure that the children you know are in school every day. Promoting school attendance for students living in poverty is something that must also be taken seriously. Research, and the reality of the students we help, paints a bleak picture if attendance is poor. You can help us change the picture by encouraging school attendance this September!

If you see a child who is not at school, take the time to ask why. It’s something everyone can do to make a difference in attendance for our most vulnerable students. Perhaps, all they need is someone to care and to encourage their success.

Eric Hall

With nearly 22 years of experience in the education sector, Dr. Eric Hall serves as the President and CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina. Eric and his wife of 12 years, Lissette, and their two children moved to North Carolina in January 2013.