Childs: We all need to raise the expectation of school attendance

We know that our teachers and school staff play a crucial role in providing a sense of belonging for these students, which can ultimately lead to better attendance rates.

Joe Childs, interim superintendent for Mitchell School District

Growing up, my dad was a no-nonsense educator and emphasized the value of going to school. In fact, until my junior year of high school, he was my ride, and in all that time I missed only two days. Our morning routine was pretty straightforward: I had to be dressed and ready to leave the house by 7:30 a.m. It wasn't until I was in the eighth grade that I messed up.

One morning, I had a little trouble waking up and getting ready for school. When I finally stumbled out of bed, my dad got on my case for being late. In teenager fashion, I muttered a response under my breath. My dad, the disciplinarian, told me I'd be walking to school that day. Of course, I didn’t live too far from the destination and again, like only a teenager would do, I made a comment about such — adding that my morning walk would be no trouble at all.

Determined to arrive on time and knowing that arriving late wasn’t an option anyway, I treaded purposefully, feeling a sense of confidence and even a touch of swagger. I made it, felt good about it, and upon arriving home that afternoon, I eagerly shared my achievement with my dad, relishing in the satisfaction of making it to school on time. With a proud smile, he congratulated me with a simple yet impactful, "good for you," and I basked in the glow of my hard-earned victory … so I thought.

I believe that stats are knowingly valuable for the work we do in education. That said, however, I wonder if we’re keeping the most important stats.

The next morning, I woke up earlier than necessary and did everything possible to appear well-rested. I rushed to the truck, glad I wasn’t walking, and we started out toward the school. I still remember the relief I felt. I was relieved that I’d messed up the day before, still gotten to school on time, and how I’d pretty easily escaped further consequences.

Second, I’ll never forget how quickly that feeling of exoneration left me when we got to the end of the street, and my dad turned left instead of right. He took a left, and I looked over at his smirk and the knowledge that we were headed straightaway from my school. Although I was instantly feeling panic, I didn’t utter a word. When we got out near the highway, several miles away, he stopped and said with a grin, "If you enjoyed yesterday's walk, you ought-ta really enjoy this one.” Then, with a look that told me he wasn’t joking, he said, “Go on ... and don’t be late.”


Missing, skipping, or arriving tardy to school did not have my family’s approval. In a household that held tardiness as synonymous with rudeness, I was quite simply expected to be there. This rule was not in writing, but I can tell you with certainty that it was, as far as my dad was concerned, non-negotiable.

This, unfortunately, is not the case for all families or all students. And over the past several years, for what I suspect is the result of many factors, school attendance has really taken a plunge. Health concerns, issues at school, trouble with transportation, the relative ease of joining your class "virtually." Whatever the case, school attendance has become alarming and as a result, our educators have been focused on ways to improve this matter. It is my belief, however, that this critical effort must be addressed by all of us and will likely only change when we have high expectations and community involvement.

For some students, attending school may not be a top priority. However, feeling included and valued within the school community can be a powerful motivator, and our educators know that.

We know that our teachers and school staff play a crucial role in providing a sense of belonging for these students, which can ultimately lead to better attendance rates. As well, not only are educators busy in classrooms, but they also work tirelessly to create opportunities for students to engage in extracurricular activities and pursue their interests in ways that we know will cultivate their sense of belonging. This effort, however, takes all of us raising our expectation of attendance.

It is true that leadership comes in many forms, and those leaders find their determination from many places.

To ensure that all students have access to these opportunities and experiences, it is essential that we all prioritize school attendance.

Regular attendance leads to opportunities that benefit the student and our city; as we know, this centered focus unsurprisingly fosters a true sense of belonging and community. By raising the expectation of school attendance, we support the form of healthy choices that aide physical and mental health. This campaign requires a multi-faceted approach that involves collaboration between schools, parents, and the community but working together will allow us to create a positive culture around attendance and ensure that students are able to realize the full benefits of education.

Be present and be involved in learning. Let’s all assist in the advantages of learning experiences, social connections, and opportunities for growth. Let your gifts be part of Mitchell’s collective and help pave the way for a sense of inclusivity and worth that will permeate throughout this community.

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