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6:47 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Prescott absenteeism program attracts limited audience; student attenders pledge to be ambassadors

Mile High Middle School seventh-grader Bruce Reynolds plays checkers while attending a school program on the importance of attendance to academic achievement. He pledged to be an attendance ambassador with his peers because he sees its importance to his academic future. (Nanci Hutson/Daily Courier)

Mile High Middle School seventh-grader Bruce Reynolds plays checkers while attending a school program on the importance of attendance to academic achievement. He pledged to be an attendance ambassador with his peers because he sees its importance to his academic future. (Nanci Hutson/Daily Courier)

Prescott Mile High Middle School seventh-grader Bruce Reynolds has a near perfect attendance record across his entire school career, a source of pride for he and his father who see it as a key to success.

Bruce and his father, Bruce Sr., were one of fewer than a handful of families who attended a seminar at the middle school Monday night related to the importance of coming to school every day.

Bruce hopes to become an ambassador for attendance to his peers. His father, as a single parent, said he is a stickler because he knows he suffered in school because of his own chronic absenteeism.

Education and juvenile judicial leaders joined a cadre of volunteers on a panel to talk about the correlation between regular school attendance and academic achievement, as well as troubles with the law.

For the third year, Prescott Unified and Chino Valley Unified schools are participating in what is known as the WRAP project, or the Wrap-Around Restorative Attendance Program offered through the nonprofit agency, Prescott Area Restorative Initiatives.

The good news shared with parents and some students is that in the last year only four attendance citations were forwarded to the Yavapai County Juvenile Detention Center. The not-so-good news is that there remains a large portion of middle and intermediate-school aged students who miss more than 10 percent of the 180 required days of school for reasons other than illness.

Citing national statistics that prove attendance matters — Monday’s program was titled “Why Attendance Matters” — Prescott Assistant Superintendent Mardi Read noted that school districts all across the country are grappling with how to convince parents and students how important it is to a child’s academic, social and emotional well-being that they consistently attend school.

School attendance is no longer simply perceived as a factor relating to student achievement, but there is empirical data that proves attendance impacts grades and can be a predictor of whether a child becomes a high school drop-out, Read said. Middle-grade truancy can put a student so far behind that they no longer see their own chance for high school success, she and other panel members explained.

Granite Mountain fifth-grade teacher Paul Helmken said showing up for school should be more than a dreaded task. He wants to create a classroom culture that is welcoming to all students so they want to come and be part of the learning and social dynamic. Helmken was clear that students who miss a class can’t simply make up that day through a worksheet or packet of materials. The very essence of the classroom experience requires students to be present to participate and absorb the lesson content, he said.

In his conversations with students, Helmken said he tells them that if they one day want to buy their own sports car, and not live under their parents roof into adulthood, they need to become active learners. The only way to guarantee that will happen is for them to embrace school as “their job.”

WRAP Initiative leader Cynthia Foss said the project’s intent is to work with families to help curb chronic absenteeism. The schools and community have resources to assist families, whether the issue is child care, a family medical issue, transportation or a student who simply stays up too late, she and the others said.

Reasons for student absences can run the gamut from missing the bus with no way then to get to school to a fear of bullies, Foss said. The WRAP volunteers are all about helping families find creative solutions so that students do not suffer the academic and social spiral consequences that can come from missing as many as 10 to 50 days of school each year, a real phenomenon for some in this district.

The younger Bruce agrees.

“I can stay on top of things when I come (to school) consistently,” he concluded.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.