BY PATRICK YEAGLE
If education is a path to success, getting students to show up is a step in the right direction. That’s why Springfield Public Schools and the Faith Coalition for the Common Good are rolling out separate but related programs aimed at improving school attendance.
Sharon Kherat, transformation officer for Lanphier High School in Springfield, says the school just kicked off its “Climbing the Ladder to Success” program at the start of the school year. The program involves educating parents on what constitutes an unexcused absence, meeting with students and calling the parents of truant students. Most importantly, Kherat says, it emphasizes encouraging voluntary attendance.
“It is about building relationships with students and their families and assisting students in developing good habits,” Kherat says. We are serious about preparing them for college and their career. We know that attendance is critical to their educational outcome and future success, so the expectation is that LHS’ students will be at school every day.”
Lanphier’s program is one of several similar programs district-wide aimed at attendance.
Ten years ago, the high school’s attendance level was around 88 percent before dropping to around 83 percent in 2006. Since then, it has slowly climbed back to about 89 percent this year. The goal is 95 percent attendance by the end of the school year.
Several parents helped create the plan to address chronic truancy, Kherat says. When a student misses three days, a teacher calls the student’s parent or parents. Teachers are given a “script” to keep the conversation less accusatory and more “caring and supportive,” Kherat says.
“It’s a holistic approach that is more preventative than reactive,” she says. “We’re always looking for incentives that recognize the kids who are doing the right thing, who have been coming every day or have made significant improvements.”
While the school district works on building relationships with students, the Faith Coalition for the Common Good is working on relationships with the community, which the coalition hopes will provide accountability and encouragement to students.
Maurine Magliocco is helping coordinate the coalition’s “In School & On Time Initiative.” Meant to complement the school district’s efforts, the initiative calls for billboards, T-shirts and other ways to spread the message that success starts with attendance.
Magliocco says business owners and members of the community will be encouraged to question youth who appear to be skipping school.
“We want to let students and their families know that the community is behind them, that their school and their community cares,” Magliocco says. “Maybe some business might be more likely to say, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in school?’ The whole idea is that kids start getting the message that the whole community wants them in school.”