Absenteeism is a crisis in parenting

We have a crisis on our hands as it goes to the education of our youth. And it’s not about the quality of the education served up in our schools.

It’s about the number of students who don’t even show up to the table for a taste, and the breakdown in our society that has produced parents who can’t or won’t even get their kids to the dining room in the first place.

As reported on the front page of Sunday’s News Herald by Eryn Dion, more than half of the students in 2014-15 were either chronically absent or at risk of it. Chronically absent is defined as missing 10 percent of the school year; those missing 5 percent or more are considered at risk. CeCe Brown, who works in Student Services with Bay District Schools and helps run attendance initiatives, said the issue is pervasive and “beginning to affect other aspects of education.”

Brown has compiled and studied the numbers but found that while the problem is worse at some schools than others, it is widespread enough that one can’t just write it off as a result of a family’s economic situation.

“People just don’t see the value in going to school every day,” Brown told Dion, adding that parents get into the habit of taking their children out of school for doctor’s appointments, hair or nail appointments, shopping trips, even vacations.

In Bay County, the highest concentration of chronic absenteeism occurs in kindergarten — just over 30 percent missed more than a month of school — and the middle school years, where 29 percent of the county’s eighth graders were chronically absent.

As Dion reported, “research generally indicates Title I schools, or schools with a high number of children qualifying for free or reduced lunch, have more chronic absenteeism because of the compounding issues associated with children living in poverty. In Bay County, while there were a number of Title I schools that saw corresponding attendance issues, Brown said it wasn’t just those students chronically missing school; it was everyone.”

“To me, we have a core issue across the whole district,” Brown said.

Why does any of that matter? Because state statistics show the obvious: kids who are chronically absent are less likely to graduate, less likely to go to college and less likely to be successful.

There are various reasons for the absenteeism, district officials said, widespread enough that the problem is being attacked by looking at what hasn’t worked, and that’s punishment. Instead, efforts are under way for positive reinforcement.

Alignment Bay County recently launched a community-led initiative to educate parents about the importance of school. The Transportation Department, led by Director Tony Conte, even has a network of vans this year that transport children to school every day.

While we applaud the efforts under way, both by the district and Alignment Bay and the Transportation Department, it’s hard to imagine a substantive turnaround without parental involvement.

“When I was young, we didn’t miss school,” Brown told Dion. “You went to school every single day unless you were really sick. We’ve kind of moved away from that over time.”

While that’s an anecdotal statement, we agree. We won’t pretend that as children or young teens we woke up every morning grateful to head to school. We went, if for no other reason, because our parents made us.

The district’s efforts must continue to save as many of these children as possible, but any gain at all should be looked at as a success because at the end of the day you can’t make a parent be a parent.

Reprinted from the Panama City News Herald

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Athol, MA 01331
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