Education

School Attendance Must Be a Priority after Count Day

This op-ed originally appeared in The Detroit Free Press. Click here to read the original post.

Kids in Detroit missed almost 2.3 million days of school last year. That’s 2.3 million missed days of learning — 2.3 million missed opportunities to build essential skills,  2.3 million days of partially filled classrooms, 2.3 million days we let our kids down.

For our kids’ futures, every day matters.

Did you know a student is considered chronically absent when they miss two days or more of school a month? National stats highlight the fact that some communities have as many as one in four children chronically absent. In Detroit, more than 55% of all students in Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and area charter schools are chronically absent.

Two days is too many to miss, and 2 million is too many to accept.

Student success begins with showing up. Count Day happening this week is an opportunity to promote how crucial attendance is. But it’s not just essential to show up on Count Day, kids need to be in school all day, every day. Strong attendance leads to higher graduation rates and academic achievement, and preparation for success as an adult.

Rev. Larry L. Simmons, Sr., Pastor, Baber Memorial A.M.E. Church and Executive Director, Brightmoor Alliance (Photo: Rev. Larry L. Simmons, Sr.)

A complex braid of challenges contributes to chronic absence. Lack of awareness is a major issue, but many other factors get in the way of kids getting to school, including health challenges, households where parents’ work demands and school hours conflict, school climate and culture, and a lack of reliable transportation.

An engaged, impassioned community is the only way to overcome the overwhelming problem. We need caring individuals and groups to step up and grab a strand to begin unraveling it. For example, if mom and dad need to be at work early, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and friends can lend a hand.

Every School Day Counts Detroit (ESDCD) is actively working to rally the community around student attendance, including a citywide awareness campaign, #2DaysTooMany. Many efforts are underway to get families the support they need. Under the leadership of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, attendance teams are being integrated in 100% of DPSCD schools. Alongside Attendance Works and the charter community, 20 local charter schools are doing the same. New afterschool programs offer additional support. And everything is grounded in research, including groundbreaking work led by Sarah Lenhoff and her team at Wayne State University, the Detroit Education Research Partnership.

It’s not easy for a small group to help get more than 100,000 kids to school every day – trust us, we’ve tried it. A couple cars and a church bus doesn’t cut it. It takes an entire community to drive drastic change. We have seen many examples of communities coming together to support those in need. Chronic absence demands that level of urgency. Ours kids and their families need support from the broader community, and they need it now.

Detroit can reduce chronic absence and set our kids up for success if we rally together.

We challenge everyone to take the ESDCD pledge to support regular school attendance at EverySchoolDayCountsDetroit.org. But don’t stop there. This is an issue we need to be constantly talking about: at church, work, the doughnut shop, the grocery store, block parties, barbershops and on social media.

Attendance is the lifeblood of education. Without it, nothing else matters. Children are our hope for the future. To set them up for success, we all need to be present now.

Rev. Larry L. Simmons, Sr. is Pastor at Baber Memorial A.M.E. Church and executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance. Christine Bell is executive director of the Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. 

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