City Year AmeriCorps Member, Marc Rowell understands the importance of being present in the classroom. Growing up in a high-need Philadelphia school, the struggle to find motivation to go to school often proved more difficult than the coursework.
“I used to have a lot of trouble in school, and a lot of it was attendance based,” Rowell said. “I would get behind in my work which ended up with teachers asking me about it and then me giving them an attitude.” Many students starting school this year risk falling into this harmful cycle.
Like many of the students filing into Philadelphia public schools this September, Rowell knew he was capable of completing his work, but poor attendance in middle school resulted in him playing catch-up all year. City Year has tackled this issue head on by implementing a Corps-wide focus on attendance for the month of September.
In addition to providing year-long whole class support, individual interventions in math and literacy, behavior interventions and creating events to engage parents and the school community, City Year is leading initiatives in attendance areas throughout Attendance Awareness Month. Missing only 2-4 days in September often leads to missing more than a month during the school year and is considered chronic absence.1 This can negatively impact a child’s academic performance – putting them on track for dropping out of school. The focus of Attendance Awareness Month is to reach students at this critical time to help them avoid falling into poor attendance habits.
“[Attendance] is the first line of defense. If our students are not in school, they will not learn.” - City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps Member
In each school site, City Year AmeriCorps members are tasked with the challenge of stressing the importance of attendance with the students as well as their fellow AmeriCorps members. A representative of the G.W. Childs Elementary attendance team describes attendance as “the first line of defense. If our students are not in school, they will not learn.”
Across Philadelphia, attendance teams are working on specific and targeted initiatives, morning greetings, and visuals as a part of the Attendance Challenge. A way of guiding and acknowledging the work of the attendance teams during this vital month, the challenge will reward individual City Year teams in different categories as they implement their unique ideas in an effort to inject a culture of attendance into schools nation-wide.
One such program that the team at Grover Washington Middle School is excited about is an upcoming pep rally that will be stressing the value and rewards of coming to school. AmeriCorps members at Grover Washington plan on using the help of onsite groups like the truancy monitoring, “Student In-School Liaison” as well as an after school performing arts program known as STEAM for the large-scale program.
“The pep rally will hit on the importance of coming to school and being present, as well as the presentation of an initiative: “The Red Hot Attendance Challenge.” This over-arching project will track daily attendance numbers for different homerooms and reward classes that have the highest monthly totals. “It will be a way for classmates to hold each other accountable and have some fun in the process,” said a representative from the Grover team.
“I think we all want to create a space where we can make these kids want to come back to school. That’s our first step.” - City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps Member
Across all Philadelphia sites, teams are working to create visually engaging and relevant ideas. Teams are not only looking to win the Attendance Challenge, but to instill an emphasis on coming to school in their students that should carry them the rest of the year.
Rowell (pictured right) and his team at E. W. Rhodes Elementary have been working on a poster of a blossoming flower entitled “Education is the Key to Growth.” The top of the poster features rain-drop like shapes coming down and watering the flower. These vital bits of water feature words like math, literacy, as well as attendance. “All of these things are equally important, and they all tie in together,” said Rowell. “I think we all want to create a space where we can make these kids want to come back to school. That’s our first step.”
By Joe McGee, City Year Philadelphia AmeriCorps Member serving at E.W. Rhodes Elementary