There’s a secret that incoming college freshmen are about to learn as they prepare to move into dorm rooms across the state, country and even the world as August rushes to a close. It’s a secret your parents, perhaps even your teachers, likely didn’t tell you – and for good reason.
The secret is that once you get to college, especially if you are moving out on your own away from your parents for the first time, nobody will be shaking you awake in time to make sure you don’t miss the school bus. Nobody will be there to drive you to school if you do miss the school bus. In short, the secret is that nobody is responsible for making sure you actually go to class besides you.
For some, this revelation will inspire the first period of true independence in a positive way. They’ll hold themselves accountable, attend every lecture and take copious notes, careful not to squander the opportunity in front of them. Others, however, will take this newfound freedom and learn a harsh lesson in why attendance actually matters, especially once you’re paying for those classes you choose to skip.
Back at the secondary level, attendance was the focus of a question sent out in the statewide education surveys by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), known as Survey Works, which gathers answers from students, teachers, administrators and parents in regards to every facet of education imaginable. The data was recently released for 2018, which was collected during the spring.
The question was asked as follows: “How much do you think missing at least two days of school a month impacts a student’s chance of graduating high school?”
While missing two days a month may not sound like a lot, it actually adds up to 18 days a year (which is approximately 10 percent of the entire school year). A child who is absent that many days would be defined by RIDE as “chronically absent.” The results collected from this question were not what RIDE Commissioner Ken Wagner was hoping to see.
Only 39 percent of students from grades 6-12 in Warwick thought that being absent twice a month, every month, would impact their chances of graduating “quite a bit” or by “a tremendous amount.” The remainder felt that missing that time would impact their graduation chances only somewhat (25 percent), perhaps impact it a little bit (20 percent) and a full 17 percent of kids felt that missing two days a month wouldn’t hurt their chances to graduate at all.
These troubling numbers were also reflected in parents, where only 56 percent responded that their kids being chronically absent would significantly affect their ability to graduate. As many as 12 percent of parents found it would impact their child’s graduation chances only a little bit and a shocking 10 percent of parents felt that chronic absence would not affect their chances at graduating at all.
Even teachers, who should (in theory) believe that being present for school is important towards the goal of graduating from it, posed some troubling stats with this question. Twenty-four percent of teachers felt a chronically absent student would only have a “somewhat harder” time graduating, 10 percent said only a little bit and 17 teachers in Warwick (4 percent of those surveyed) responded that being chronically absent would not impact a student’s chances to graduate at all.
Wagner said himself that, regardless of what the truth is here – either troubling numbers of students, parents and even teachers are correct that attending school regularly simply isn’t as important as it should be, or they are under a grave misconception – there is clearly a problem with how many people view the importance of attendance.
Showing up to class is a simple argument to have with a college student – after all it’s pretty silly to pay thousands of dollars for an education only to choose not to partake in it. However, demonstrating the value of a public high school education is less simple, perhaps especially so in a district that has been plagued by overt negativity as much as Warwick has in past years.
The message here is simple and clear, and we agree with Wagner wholeheartedly. Every day in class is an opportunity for a child to learn something new, to engage in a dialogue that can have lasting impact into their growth and development. Every day missed from this process is a lost opportunity for that growth.
Once kids are in college, they are on their own, but when kids are still in elementary and secondary school it remains the responsibilities of parents, teachers and other role models to instill the values that school is important and worth showing up for.