Sixth grade is a make-or-break year. According to research, most middle grade students develop their off-track indicators in sixth grade. Students who show indications of falling off the graduation path in the sixth grade have worse outcomes than students who began to develop off-track indicators in seventh grade or later. Research supports that sixth-grade students who come to school every day, behave well, and get good grades graduate in high numbers. These habits are built early and over time.
That’s why Vancouver elementary schools are paying attention to these leading indicators for graduation success. And our schools, staff, and students are making great progress. In fact, since 2008-2009, sixth-graders at or above 95 percent attendance have increased 10 points, from 43 percent to 53 percent. This month’s e-News is a story that spotlights one school’s efforts to increase student achievement by improving student attendance. It’s the “must be present to win” strategy!
This school year, Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary teachers are discussing with their students the link between being present—attending school every day and being there on-time—and completing elementary, middle, and high school, and moving on to college. Staff members routinely talk about missed learning opportunities that can never be recaptured due to absenteeism. Roosevelt students are getting the message. Roosevelt’s average daily attendance for the school year so far is 95.5 percent. On any given day, as many as 13 classrooms have 100 percent attendance! What might account for this early success? It’s the blending of fun, focus, and the future.
Roosevelt classrooms achieving 100 percent attendance for the day are honored during the morning announcements. Teachers say students whoop and holler when they hear their names. Staff members report a huge shift in culture and expectations; students own the attendance goals and convince one another to be at school every day.
Recently, second-grade teacher Janell Dempsey told her class it was great everyone was there, and one student piped up, “But two of us weren’t on time, and we all need to be on time.” Fourth-grade teacher Kathleen Laib told her students although they were all there, it would take everyone being on time to be recognized over the loud speaker. The next day the whole class was there and on time!
When classes accomplish both of these goals—all present and all on time—the principal and associate principal have a “mini party” with the class. For two minutes everyone in the class waves noisemakers and makes a lot of racket. Staff members use these celebrations to anchor the link between being at school and learning.
Fifth-grade teacher Evelyne Tumanoff has taken Roosevelt’s attendance focus to a new level. One day, Evelyne realized her students had achieved 100 percent attendance three days in a row. She asked her students if they thought they could make it a full week, and attendance became a group decision. “Nobody wanted to be the one to spoil it for the others,” she said. By early October, her class had achieved 100 percent attendance a total of 16 days—with 10 of those days in a row!
Students connected the idea of being present to learn with excellence—they called it being “beyond good.” The class came up with examples of excellent work habits and behavior and where they lead. Evelyne said, “Once students see themselves as being excellent, they know they can do it, whatever it is.” She added: “It’s a pleasure to teach with all students present. Every time I have something new to teach, I can just go. I know everyone is here to participate. Learning is happening because students are present physically and they are engaged.”
Being present is about being at school and being engaged as a learner; it’s about the habits we routinely teach and reinforce. Roosevelt’s learning community gets it. And, the success created there today will bear fruit at our middle schools and high schools tomorrow.
Have a wonderful harvest season!