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Attendance Is More Than Just A Number

Prior to the 2011-12 school year, Prince Edward County High School set a number of objectives. While many of them involved increases in academic achievement, we also began to think about the qualities that we wanted students to have when they graduated and we set goals that involved the culture of our school. Among these many aims for the 2011-12 school year our administrators and teachers set the objective of attaining a 100 percent attendance rate for our school. While this may have seemed virtually impossible, it was a reflection of the new standard of excellence that we wanted. This rate was also higher than the 94 percent federal requirement for attendance which had not been met at PECHS since 2005. For our school, this was a goal that involved more than just reaching a number and satisfying a federal requirement; it demonstrated our school's goal of insuring success for every student.

When the school year began, the notion of exceeding the federal benchmark was emphasized to the faculty and students. Students and parents were informed about the new attendance policy that had been supported by our Superintendent and the school board. Moreover, several initiatives were implemented to help us reach our goal. We began to recognize individual students who achieved perfect attendance during the course of the school year. Contests were established for the class with the highest attendance. Each grading period, the class with the highest attendance was rewarded with a pizza party. Later in the year, we recognized students with perfect attendance by allowing them to attend faculty/student basketball games.

Last month, it was evident that Prince Edward County High School was making great strides toward the goal of 100 percent attendance. This was a high point, not only for our school, but for the Prince Edward community as well. However, this achievement means much more than meeting a federal requirement. It exemplifies the transformation of our school. Moreover, it is a reflection of the high achievement and change that is continuously occurring at our school. Why is a high attendance rate important? There are several reasons.

First, it is critical that the students in our community are in school. There is an abundance of literature that indicates that students are more successful when they are in school. Not only is it the safest place for students, it also insures that young people in our community are engaged in constructive and positive activities. Without question, there are a number of negative activities that our students can engage in. School should be seen as a safe haven from negative activities and the best place for our students to be in order to become positive contributors to society.

Second, it is crucial that our students attend school in order to reach the academic excellence that they need to be successful. If our school's success is related to the success of our students, then it is imperative that students attend school at high levels consistently. Simply put, in order for our students to learn and be successful, they must be at school. The high academic goals that our administrators and teachers set at the beginning of the year cannot be a reality if our students are absent. When identifying our students who struggle and who are at risk, high absence rates are commonly a factor. If our learners are to become critical thinkers and contributors to our community and society at large, their attendance is critical.

Third, students who are chronically absent have a lesser chance of reaching the ultimate goal: obtaining a high school diploma. Unquestionably, students who are chronically absent have a greater chance of being dropouts. This is because when students are absent, they miss the vital instruction that is needed to meet the requirements of a high school diploma. When students get further behind in work, there is a greater chance for these students to become high school dropouts.

When considering all of this, it is easy to understand the importance of attendance. And while PECHS reached a milestone that had not been achieved in seven years, our goal as a community should continue to be more than just reaching 94 percent attendance or a government mandate; it should be 100 percent attendance. Think about it. Every student who does not attend school is not reaching his or her full potential and could potentially become a dropout. What can we do to help increase attendance? There are several things.

All of us as parents and community members can stress the importance of attendance. Parents can communicate the expectation to attend school every day. Explain that just as adults have jobs, it's our students' job to go to school and learn. If we want our students to understand the importance of commitment and how this relates to success in the workplace, school attendance is a great comparison.

Moreover, as a community, we can stress the importance of a high school diploma. As we move toward a global society, our students will have to compete with others on a global basis; a high school diploma is essential for our students. Each day that a young adult misses school, this becomes less of a reality. In contrast, when students are in school, they are exposed to the direct instruction of qualified teachers and specialists who can insure that they receive the rigor and support they need. With that in mind, parents, relatives and community members can try to preserve instructional time by keeping students in school. This means scheduling doctor's appointments after the school day and vacations during the weekends or during breaks. All of these things will not only increase attendance, but help develop a culture in our community in which our students understand that attendance in school is important in order to have overall academic success.

One of the notions that we communicate to our students at Prince Edward County High School is that if you shoot for the moon, maybe you will hit a star. That is exactly what happened this year in regards to attendance. Without question, our community and our school should be proud of the increased attendance at our school. However, our work is not done. If we are to insure success for every student and maintain high academic goals, our goal must continue to be a 100 percent attendance rate. As a community, our motivation should be more than merely satisfying the requirements of No Child Left Behind; rather, our goal should be to develop critical thinkers who understand commitment and perseverance and who can compete in a 21st century society. Attendance in school is a first step in not only transforming our school, but in developing the Prince Edward County Community into a place where everyone can succeed.

(Mr. Reed is principal of Prince Edward County High School and writes the On The Wings Of Eagles column for The Farmville Herald)