September is National Attendance Awareness Month and we at KIPP Minnesota wanted to take this opportunity to share the strides we are taking to boost student attendance in our schools.
In the state of Minnesota, 14 percent of students are chronically absent, meaning they miss more than 10 percent of school days. In the Minneapolis school district, the number is closer to 19 percent.¹
We know that this issue is more than a matter of truancy or skipping school. According to Attendance Works, student absences are often tied to health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and oral and mental health issues. But other barriers include lack of a nearby school bus, a safe route to school, or food insecurity.
At KIPP, we know how vital school attendance is to overall performance. Attendance is an indicator of academic performance, on-time high school graduation, and college attainment rates. In order to realize our students’ full potential, we must address all barriers they may be facing to an equitable education, including their ability to be in class every day, able and ready to learn.
Here are seven ways we work to ensure students are in school every day ready to learn:
1. Tracking and outreach
Our key approach to reducing absenteeism is tracking and outreach. KIPP leaders track both the average attendance rate and chronically absent rate each month, working together to show improvement and meet school-wide goals. When a student is absent and we don't know why, we reach out to parents to find out the cause and, when appropriate, to work together to find a solution. As students get older, this means also working with them to build their own responsibility and accountability for getting to school. In one case, KIPP bought an alarm clock and taught a student how to use it, since his mother was at work during the time he needed to get to school.
2. Celebration of attendance and positive choices:
For grades K-3, teachers track students through the Dojo system; behavior, attendance, and positive choices are all tracked and parents can view students’ trackers via a phone app. At the end of the week, students who have been in class and making positive choices are invited to the Dojo party to celebrate their hard work.
Similar to Dojo, teachers for grades 5-8 use Kickboard to track student behavior. Students earn “glows” and, ultimately, invitations to Friday celebrations and end-of-term trips.
3. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks provided.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nutrition not only affects children’s physical growth and health, but also intellectual development, school performance, and school attendance.² KIPP MN provides free nutritious meals and snacks to students to ensure they have the energy to focus on their schoolwork.
We are especially grateful to the Minnesota Department of Education for providing a grant through their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to add fresh produce snacks twice a week.
4. Community support
We are fortunate to partner with the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) and to have NAZ Family Achievement Coaches in our schools. Coaches partner with scholars and parents to support their path to college beginning at birth. This year all KIPP students are considered NAZ students, even if they live outside the zone, which will boost our school-home support tremendously. Click here to learn more about NAZ.
Additionally, we recently established a five-year partnership with VONA Center for Mental Health to provide free on-campus therapy and intervention for students and families.
5. Addressing medical needs on-campus
Our nurse, Ms. Briggs, is on campus every day to attend to students’ medical needs. Many different health needs affect student attendance such as the flu or a broken arm, but chronic health conditions - such as asthma, diabetes, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder - are linked to higher rates of absenteeism.³
According to a 2003 study, students with asthma enrolled in schools without on-campus healthcare miss more days of school than those enrolled in schools with on-campus healthcare.³
Additionally, a partnership with Children’s Minnesota gave KIPP students with asthma better inhalers along with training on why and how to use them.
We know that our families have varying schedules, and some may not have reliable transportation, and that is why we are committed to free bussing to ensure students have a way to get to and from school every day.
7. Enrichment activities
We offer enrichment programs four days a week. Students participate in an enrichment activity of their choice. This year’s choices include double dutch, ukelele, and leadership training! Recent research suggests that participation in such activities may increase students' sense of engagement or attachment to their school.⁵ We are grateful to partner with Beacons this year to offer even more enrichment activities to our KIPPsters. Learn more about Beacons here.
Attendance is vital to student success. As advocates for exemplary and equitable education for all, KIPP Minnesota implements various strategies and supports to ensure our students are able to come to school everyday ready to learn. By providing these supports and encouraging regular attendance, we can ensure every student has the opportunity to realize their potential.