Red, white and blue balloons floated toward the sky above Carter Elementary School Wednesday as an affirmation of the school’s rising attendance rates.
Joined by the Howard High School band, hundreds of Carter students with good attendance records and Bibb County school Superintendent Curtis Jones celebrated Attendance Awareness Month with the gesture.
At one point, Takeysha Ray, a Bibb County school district social worker, asked the audience, “Attend school when?”
“Every day. All day. And be on time,” the crowd of kindergarten through fifth-graders shouted back.
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Attendance Awareness Month seeks to integrate and promote attendance into the daily school culture across the country. Curlandra Smith, another social worker, said research has shown that if younger students begin a pattern of missing school in kindergarten, it often leads to literacy problems and academic trouble later in their school career.
Attendance has also been a big drive in the superintendent’s school improvement goals.
“Sonny Carter is an exceptional school, and the program they put together today to celebrate school attendance was just exceptional,” Jones said.
Jamie Cassady, assistant superintendent of student affairs, said he and the rest of the superintendent’s cabinet members are “looking at attendance every week.”
When students have unexcused absences, events are triggered depending on how many days are missed. After three days, school counselors make a phone call to the student’s parent or guardian. After five days, social workers get involved. Then, after 10 days of unexcused absences, the student is considered truant.
One new initiative Cassady has started to improve attendance across the school system is a truancy task force, which plans to have its first meeting in October.
The group will consist of representatives from the school board, court systems, law enforcement, counselors and the Division of Family and Children Services.
Once a student is considered truant, he or she will have to come before a committee with their legal guardian.
“Based off the information we gather, we’ll help them out with the support systems they need in order to make sure that student is able to attend school,” Cassady said.
The total number of students across the system who’ve had five or more unexcused absences has decreased in recent years from 37 percent of students in 2012-13 to 35 percent in 2014-15, according to the school district.
Cassady said absences that are excused include a student who is sick (with a doctor’s note), who has had a death in the family or is dealing with homelessness.
“I think if a team can come together, we can solve those issues,” Jones said. Sometimes, for example, a hurdle involves transportation, “and we can deal with that too.”
To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382 or find him on Twitter@davidcschick.