WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) – At Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Quentin Hart took a stance against absenteeism in Waterloo schools. He signed a proclamation declaring September, “Attendance Awareness Month” in hopes to encourage more families to make sure their children are in the classroom.
Irving Elementary school has fought absenteeism within its building over the past few years.
“We have always talked about absences, and how that impacts education specifically for kids,” Irving Principal Amy Schmidt said. “When I came in four years ago, we knew it was a level of urgency.”
Irving decided to put a plan in place to help. The team of teachers, adminstrators, and family support workers started by building relationships with families. They got out in the community, talked with them, provided resources, and found ways to keep parents accountable.
Once relationships were built, the next year the school focused on raising awareness about attendance. That meant announcing totals during the daily announcements, putting posters around the building, and using proper language to help students understand.
“If we talk about it enough, and we let them know how important it is, they’re respond and they’ll want to come to school,” Schmidt said.
It’s not just coming to school in the morning, the goal is to keep them there all day long.
“If you have a student that misses one day of school, it takes them three days to catch up,” Family Support Worker Adriene Carlson said. “We’re teaching from the moment they’re in their seats, until that dismissal time happens.”
If a student does miss school, teachers make calls to parents, other staff members check in on students, and if a student misses too many days a meeting will be set up with the parents.
“A lot of times parents just don’t realize how many days their student has missed, so then its bringing that to their attention, and saying this is becoming a problem and we do need to make sure our kids are at school,” Carlson said.
Within the building, staff finds creative ways to keep students excited about their attendance.
“We give out traveling trophies to the classroom, so the classrooms get super competitive about that. There are prizes, pizza parties, popcorn parties, we’ve pied our lead teacher in the face a few times,” Carlson said. “I think it was getting the student buy in, and then the parent buy in, and now we’re really seeing that trend going up toward students being at school.”
Schmidt said with the city’s support its only going to get better.
“I really think the more and more awareness that we talk about as a community, the bigger impact it will have on attendance within the schools. I really think you’re going to see a change within the next year, you talk to me a year from now and I hope to tell you that our attendance has increased based on the community effort not just the school effort,” she said.
Carlson said she shares Irving’s ideas with other support workers in hopes to spread success.
“I think for us, it’s not Irving serving Irving, it’s Irving working with all of our schools, so we have all of our Waterloo kids in school,” she said.
The city of Cedar Falls also plays to adopt an attendance proclamation during its city council meeting September 5.