‘Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow’

WASD joins national campaign to promote school attendance

A recent amendment to the Pennsylvania School Code on student attendance has Williamsport Area School District answering the call to join in on a national campaign to raise awareness against chronic absenteeism.

And the timing is just right.

September is national Attendance Awareness Month, and the district is teaming up with the Count Us In campaign, organized by Attendance Works, a national nonprofit, that is putting forth the effort to encourage school communities to champion the message “Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow.”

“Every day a student is absent from school is a lost opportunity for learning,” said Dr. Richard Poole, WASD’s director of student services. “Too many absences not only can affect achievement but also the social and emotional growth of the student.”

Nationally, an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million students are at risk academically each year because they are chronically absent — missing up to 10 percent or more of school days in excused and unexcused absences, according to report issued by Attendance Works.

“When families understand the negative effects of chronic absenteeism on realizing their hopes and dreams for their children, we can work on improving attendance in WASD,” Poole added. “Too many parents and students do not realize that just missing two days each month can be a problem, and that often leads to falling behind in the classroom. Even fewer families realize that absenteeism is a problem as early as kindergarten, and building the habit of attendance in the early grades can influence their children’s chances of graduating from high school.”

Under the amendments made to the Pennsylvania School Code (Act 138) in 2016, the state will now “grade” districts on its attendance rates. As a result, the changes prompted WASD to re-work its own attendance policy. The district’s policy now stipulates “after three days of unlawful absences (including unexcused absences) within one school year, parents will receive a letter from their child’s school that outlines the consequences of habitual truancy and invites them to a School Attendance Improvement Conferen­ce. Additional absences beyond the first three unlawful absences may result in a referral to a school-based attendance improvement program, referral to Lycoming County Children and Youth services, and/or a citation for violating compulsory attendance laws.”

By teaming up with the Count Us In campaign, the district hopes to motivate students and parents by promoting the academic and social benefits of attending school more regularly.

While the district rolls out its initial effort through September, Poole said an attendance committee plans to work through the year to expand and strengthen campaign efforts for the 2019-2020 school term. He said it’s the committee’s goal to more broadly mobilize the Williamsport community behind the “Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow” message.