WW, Salem seeing increase in student absence rates

By: 
Kate Wehlann, Staff Writer

Student attendance is important for both students and schools. It’s hard to learn the material if a student isn’t in the classroom and schools are judged based on test scores and student attendance as well.

All but two schools in Washington County saw an increase in students who missed 10 percent (18 days) or more of school, with some schools seeing a substantial increase, from the 2015-2016 to the 2016-2017 school years. Eastern High School and East Washington Elementary School were the only two to see a decrease. EHS had three fewer students miss that much school and EWES had five fewer students miss 10 percent or more of school.

“I think the one thing our kids really strive to accomplish is being part of Renaissance,” said EHS Principal Darin Farris. “Renaissance takes into account attendance, discipline and academics.”

And the attendance requirements are pretty strict. Students can’t accumulate more than five unexcused absences per class, per semester. They also can’t be late to school more than three times in a semester, with arriving at first period late counting as tardy. Students also must retain at least a 2.7 GPA, have no more than one full day of in-school suspension and no out-of-school suspensions. Seniors with six semesters as members of Renaissance receive a gold cord to wear for graduation and seniors with seven semesters get gold and purple cords to wear.

The rewards, however, are pretty sweet. Students in Renaissance get passes to all athletic events during the school year and, should they be members at the end of the year, the school takes them to a field day at Buffalo Trace.

“We probably take 200 kids or more,” said Farris. “We cook out, play games, fish, whatever they want to do there and we give out prizes and rewards when we get back.”

Farris said the school always has some students with high absence rates, but the school works hard to encourage students to be present at school.

East Washington Elementary Principal Debbie Esarey said her building also offers incentives to students for perfect attendance.

“We have an attendance drawing every nine weeks and we hold an assembly to recognize students,” she said. “Businesses have partnered with us — Jean’s Extrusions is one — and donated money at the beginning of the year for prizes.”

She said local businesses should have an interest in how students perform in schools, especially in regards to things like attendance.

“We try to set good patterns with students because they’re going to be the employees at these businesses one day,” she said. “Businesses are really good about working with us.”

Two students every nine weeks are drawn to receive the prizes.

“We make a big deal and take their picture for the paper,” said Esarey. “We try to reward the positives.”

She said there are other rewards for kids at the end of the year with perfect attendance.

“Holiday World is good about giving us passes,” she said.

She said teachers are consistent in reminding students how important it is to be at school. Behavioral Specialist Jeremy Goen also follows up with students who miss school.

“Jeremy Goen gets on the phone with parents, goes to their homes,” said Esarey. “He’ll make sure the kids are up and get on the bus. There’s a lot of parent communication and we try to communicate that extended truancy can cause retention and we don’t want to do that … In elementary, it’s not the kid’s fault. That’s why we communicate so much with the parents.”

Esarey said physical attendance in school is more important now than it was in the past.

“It’s not like back in the 90s,” she said. “When they miss school they miss instruction. There’s so much collaboration now so they miss out on a lot that they can’t make up … We feel strongly about setting good habits. We hit the life skills really hard and talk about how it will make you a more productive citizen. That’s what schools are about. We want them to be able to get a good job and have a good life.”

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