Niles school district focused on improving attendance
Published 9:25 am Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Two Ballard Elementary School students were rewarded last week with free bicycles for having perfect attendance during the month of December.
It’s part of a district wide initiative at Niles Community Schools to cut down on absenteeism, mainly at the elementary school levels.
Carter Doolittle and Natalie Hines were given the bikes during an assembly in front of the entire student body in the school’s gymnasium.
Assistant Principal Adam Burtsfield said their names were chosen in a drawing that included every child that did not miss any time at school in December — 260 students in all.
The hope, he said, is that incentive programs like this one will encourage others to come to school every day.
“I personally have seen a lot of buy-in already from the kids, especially some of the younger kids,” Bartsfield said. “You want to set a good foundation for them and that’s where I’ve seen a lot of the excitement.”
Ballard students knew of the bicycle drawing prior to December.
Burtsfield said 42 percent of Ballard students had perfect attendance in December this year, up from 35 percent the year before and 40 percent in the 2013/14 school year.
Pathways to Potential
Supt. Dan Applegate said the district received a grant late last year that is allowing the district to use resources from the state’s Pathways to Potential program to keep children from missing school.
Representatives from Pathways to Potential secured donations to pay for the bikes from two local businesses (The Fitness Industry in Buchanan and Carefree Carpet Cleaning of Niles).
The Pathways reps are also working with families of students who have been identified by the district as being chronically absent, meaning they are missing 10 percent or more of school days.
Applegate said research has found a strong correlation between attendance and success at school.
“We know that students who miss more than 10 percent of school days — it starts having a negative impact on your achievement,” he said. “We don’t want kids to come to school when they are sick, but we do want them to make every effort to come to school.”
School officials are tracking chronically absent children from year to year so they can intervene before achievement is affected.
Most of the effort, he said, is being focused at the elementary level in order to instill good attendance habits early.
“If we can get them to internalize that at the elementary level we are hoping that will carry through,” he said.
Niles’ attendance rate district wide has hovered around 96 or 97 percent in the past few years, according to the numbers provided by Applegate. That is well above the state’s attendance target of 90 percent.
Even so, Applegate said the district is taking steps to reach the students who are slipping through the cracks.
“Chronic attendance is not a district or building wide problem,” Applegate said. “The issue really becomes the 3 to 4 percent of students who do not regularly attend.”
Based on current data, Applegate said there are approximately 50 elementary school children in the district who are considered chronically absent.
“Through the incentive programs, we are trying to build a culture where all children and their families see the importance of regular school attendance,” he said.
As for this year, Applegate said attendance is holding steady with what they’ve seen in previous years. He said they would not have a clear picture until data can be examined at the end of the year.
More information about attendance and its affect on students can be found on the Niles Community Schools website at nilesschools.org.