Back to School: Attendance Matters for Health, Success
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois kids can start the school year off right by attending the first day of class, but research finds it's crucial that students have good attendance throughout the year. Madelyn James, director of the Birth-to-Eight Project with Voices for Illinois Children, says there is a strong relationship between regular attendance and academic and personal success.
She says research indicates families, teachers, administrators and communities should promote good attendance habits early in preschool and kindergarten.
"When children are absent, whether it's sporadically across the year or consecutively, there is a significant impact on their ability to learn and to be prepared for future instruction," says James.
Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing more than 10 percent of the school year, which is roughly 18 days. James says as early as kindergarten it can have a negative, cumulative effect that becomes apparent in reading levels and the dropout rate.
Besides medical reasons, James says students also miss school due to housing instability, transportation issues, or conflicts with a parent's work schedule. She adds it's an issue schools, parents and the community need to address together.
"It's a broader discussion we need to have as a society," she says. "Of how do we support parents ensuring they have this system of care across a full day and ensure that their children are in school to take advantage of all the instructional time that's available."
James encourages families to begin a back-to-school routine weeks before class begins. That includes preparing backpacks at night, an earlier bedtime and a regular breakfast. She says it will help kids get to class on time and improve their health.
"Making sure children have sufficient sleep certainly is going to help their immune systems," says James. "Be ready for being exposed to probably a much larger array of bacteria and viruses."
This year, Illinois leaders created an Attendance Commission to study chronic absenteeism and introduce strategies to improve school attendance.