October is known in middle school circles as the “Month of the Young Adolescent.” This designation pays tribute to the passage from childhood to young adulthood and acknowledges that there are many trials and tribulations associated with the extreme growth that occurs in just the three years our students spend here with us at the Middle School.
In considering what topic to focus on during a time when preadolescents are in the spotlight, I decided it was time to talk about two related topics as they have to do with the formation of effective life-long habits: coming to school and arriving on time.
Schools in general are seeing absenteeism and tardiness on the rise, and new state accountability regulations require that schools meet certain benchmarks with regard to attendance as part of the “college and career readiness” assessment. Millburn Middle School did not meet the statewide target under the heading for chronic absenteeism.
Educational journals are publishing research and suggestions for trying to improve student attendance, and while being tardy to school is somewhat different, students who are tardy are still missing instructional time, often affecting the same class or classes.
There are three categories of reasons for which students do not attend school: discretion, aversion, and barriers.
The third one, barriers, does not really apply to us, as it has to do with inadequate transportation and other household or family circumstances that prevent children from getting to school.
The first, discretion, has to do with attitudes about school. Discretion applies to parent decisions to remove students from school to go on vacation or regularly scheduled appointments during the school day, or to take students out for lunch or to attend or participate in performances, athletic events or “mental health days.” It is about taking a detour from the mindset that going to school every day is critically important, and that it is the job of the student to be present, on time, and ready to learn every day. Whatever discretionary reasons there are, these unexcused absences can add up as can the pupil workload.
The final category, the second on the list, has to do with avoidance of coming to school due to anxiety. Schools everywhere are dealing with increased numbers of students who have developed medical and emotional symptoms that prevent them from coming to school. It is so important for parents to partner with our schools to garner the resources necessary to diagnose, treat, and support students who fall into this category.
The research also says that chronic absenteeism, generally thought to exceed 10% of the school year, begins during the middle school years. Now is the time! We all have to get ahead of this issue. Students lose valuable instructional time, social connections, and foundational learning for more complex applications when they are absent or tardy. They also risk being overwhelmed by the amount of work and the loss of continuity which can then perpetuate their school avoidance.
The Middle School will keep track of your child’s attendance, including when they are marked as arriving late. We will communicate with you and your child when incidents increase or patterns develop. We should all be seizing a “teachable moment” with our students and view developing this habit of attending and being on time as the ground floor way to live a life that is responsible, respectful of teachers and peers, and productive.