LA CROSSE, Wis., (September 7, 2022) – La Crosse County school districts have joined a nationwide effort to celebrate a community-wide Attendance Matters awareness campaign this school year. The districts are pledging to raise awareness about the value of regular school attendance and focus on reducing chronic absenteeism in the new school year.
Local school districts recognize that good attendance is essential to not only academic achievement, but future success beyond school. But far too many students are at risk academically because they are chronically absent. Chronic absence is described as missing 10% of the school year—or about 18 days (two days a month) – for any reason, excused or unexcused. Research shows that the 10% threshold is when absenteeism can substantially affect a child.
Locally, school districts have seen an increase in chronic absenteeism since the start of the pandemic. In some cases, chronic absenteeism has nearly doubled, with as many as 32% of students missing 10% or more of school days. This issue is affecting thousands of students in schools across La Crosse County.
“Over the past three years, we have seen a sharp rise in absenteeism,” said Fayme Evenson, Director of Instructional Services at the School District of Onalaska. “We want to be proactive headed into a new school year to ensure that we are adequately supporting students and families to get back on track by attending regularly. Our job is to address barriers and remove them to clear the way for positive attendance.”
Starting as early as preschool, chronic absence predicts lower 3rd-grade reading scores. By middle school, it is a warning sign that students will fail key classes and drop out of high school. Local school officials see good school attendance as a critical piece to a child’s education, as well as a critical predictor of future success.
“Many people may view truancy as a victimless offense, and it may appear that way in the Moment,” said Alicia Place, Community Services Coordinator for the School District of La Crosse. “However, when our students grow up and leave our school systems without graduating, the implications for them and our community are great. We want to make sure we are supporting all students to find a path of success towards graduation, and good school attendance is the first step to achieve this goal.”
Local school districts all want to help reduce or eliminate barriers that may exist causing a child to be absent from school. District staff work with families, students, and community agencies to help ensure that needs are being met so that school attendance is not impacted by barriers.
This school year, schools, city agencies, community nonprofits, and others around the La Crosse community and the nation are committing additional time and resources to raise public awareness, map local attendance gaps, and work with community partners to improve school attendance starting as soon as children enter school.
“September is a particularly good time to focus on attendance,” said Hedy Chang, Executive Director of Attendance Works, a national nonprofit initiative dedicated to improving school attendance. “Research shows that students who miss two to four days in the first month of school are more likely to become chronically absent during the school year. By paying attention to absences early in the school year and early in a child’s academic career, we can turn around attendance and achievement.”
As a part of the Attendance Matters campaign, districts are asking school leaders, community advocates, parents, caregivers, and students to act upon critical first steps to help stem chronic absenteeism.
To learn more about what students, families, and support agencies can do to help strengthen school attendance and student achievement, please visit www.lacrosseschools.org/attendance.