By Dr. Dana Harris

The research is in—and it’s very clear. When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school, but also throughout life. 

According to the National Center for Student Engagement, schools are most effective in achieving high attendance rates when parents, school leaders and community members work together to focus on reducing absences, truancy and keeping kids in schools.

Succeeding in school requires developing good habits and attendance is perhaps the single most important factor in a child achieving overall school success.

Like bacteria in a hospital, chronic absenteeism can wreak havoc long before it’s discovered.

Nationwide, five to 7.5 million students are chronically absent each year, a problem that contributes to higher dropout rates and wider achievement gaps. We know that more than a million teenagers drop out of school each year in the U.S. and millions more fail to develop the language and learning skills needed to sustain themselves as adults, let alone live to their full potential.

To stay on track in school, students need to be present every day. According to, a national dropout prevention campaign, missing eighteen or more days of school in a year puts a child’s high school graduation at risk. A child that is absent for just two days can fall behind academically.

Parents play a key role in getting their children to school on time every day.  Even with teenagers, parents should not underestimate the impact they can have by monitoring attendance and helping youth understand why monitoring and why going to school matters.

Put your child on the path to success with these attendance strategies.

• Make school a priority. Demonstrate a positive attitude about education to your child.  What we say and do in our daily lives can help and will enable children to build confidence as learners. Showing our children that we value education provides them with powerful models and contributes greatly to their success in school. In addition, by showing interest in your children’s education, parents and families can spark enthusiasm and lead children to a very important understanding-that learning can be enjoyable, rewarding and is well worth the effort required.

• Maintain ongoing communication with the teachers and school personnel. Know what’s going on in your child’s school and classroom. Read the school documents that your child brings home and take note of important appointments and dates, such as back-to-school night or parent-teacher conferences. Know your school’s attendance policies.  If an absence or early dismissal is unavoidable, contact your school. If your family’s religious observances fall on school days, let teachers know early in the year which days you child will miss. Know your school’s calendar and arrange doctor and dentist appointments after school, on weekends, or during holiday breaks.  Resist the urge to schedule vacations when students will miss school as this gives students the impression that school is not a priority.

• Make a plan.  If your schedule or transportation situation makes getting your child to school a challenge, ask for assistance.  Make a carpool or transportation plan with other parents or family members or ask the school principal for community programs or school initiatives that may help.

• Keep a watchful eye on what’s happening with you child.  Look for signs that they are bored, struggling with schoolwork or having trouble with friends.  Seek out tutoring, talk with teachers and nurture interest in school by finding engaging afterschool programs and encouraging involvement in extracurricular activities.

• Learn about the school’s policies. What incentives do teachers offer for good attendance?  What counts as an excused or unexcused absence?  What are the penalties? Find your own ways to reward good attendance.  You know best what motivates your child.

• Promote good health.  Make sure that you child eats a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and has opportunities to exercise every day through a spots team or playtime outside.

• Create a restful environment. Make sure that your child can relax before bedtime by doing something calm like reading rather than doing something stimulating, like watching television.  Ensure that you child gets enough sleep. Ideal amounts range from 8 to twelve hours. Getting enough sleep will help your child to wake up on time.  Your child will feel refreshed in the morning and feel ready for a full day of learning ahead!

• Praise and Encouragement. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Be your child’s biggest cheerleader.” There is great value in this statement.  For a child to do well at school, he or she needs to have confidence that no matter what a report card says that they are valuable loved and gifted.  Reiterate this message again and again. Look for those specific areas that your child struggles with and take notice when the smallest of accomplishment has taken place. And by all means, let you child know how proud you are of them!

The most important thing for parents to remember is that you are the most important teacher in your child’s life. You play a key role in getting your child to school on time every day. Support your child’s school success by setting a positive example. After all, when it comes to school attendance, every day counts!

Dr. Dana Harris completed 37 years of dedicated service in the educational arena, 30 of which was with Richmond County Schools. She retired as an elementary school principal in 2016 and has been married 38 years. She has a daughter and two grandchildren.

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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