by KIM HILSENBECK
Increasing student attendance is a focal point for many Central Texas schools this fall. In conjunction with E3 Alliance, an Austin-based nonprofit hoping to make a difference in student absenteeism, several campuses within the Hays CISD are participating in what’s call the “Get Schooled Fall Attendance Challenge.”
Now in its final weeks of this year, the program pits middle and high schools against each other to earn points for raising attendance rates. The highest earning schools can earn a live performance from a celebrity.
Stony Point High School in Round Rock leads the overall Central Texas challenge with 111 points; the goal is to get 115. But several Hays CISD schools and one San Marcos school are in the Top 25 list for points.
Simon Middle School has earned 70, putting it in fourth place. San Marcos High School has 55 points, which puts it at number six on the Central Texas list.
Hays CISD Live Oak Academy High School is sitting at number 14 on the list with 32 points. Lehman High School has 26 points putting it at number 21 on the list.
Simon Middle School Principal Matthew Pope said he and his staff emphasize that they truly care about students and want them in school each day.
“Students have said that they do not want to miss school because they like coming each day,” Pope said.
He attributes much of their attitude to the positive relationships students have with teachers and staff at the school.
“A big part of the education of middle school students is the relationships you build, along with high expectations for their success,” he said.
Pope said all Simon students have an advisory teacher, similar to a homeroom teacher. That staff member contacts the home of absent students each time they’re out, to check in with the student and find ways to help him or her get in school.
The motivation also includes getting more money from the Texas Education Agency because unexcused absences equate to less disbursement of funds. Getting students to attend just three more days a year can bring in significant money for a school district.
Interim Superintendent Carter Scherff told the Hays Free Press earlier this fall that Hays CISD could bring in more than $1 million this year if more students would attend class each day.
According to Pope, the incentives to come to class include school dances, eating lunch outside, grade-level movie parties, open gym time, barbecue parties, techno time, dress code passes and iPods.
“Our participation in the games won us the recognition as one of six schools in the nation to have a private screening of the current movie ‘Rise of the Guardians,’” Pope said.
Based on the most recent report available, attendance at Simon was up .31 percent from the same time last year.
The most common reasons for absences this year are illness, Pope said. Since Hays CISD schools can now track reasons for absenteeism, Pope said the school can work with parents to determine how to help get a student to class.
“For example, right now we are giving helpful tips to students about how to not get the cold or the flu,” Pope said.
Ruth Roberts, director of student health services for Hays CISD, said some parents have reported their children have the flu, but it’s not a widespread issue at this point.
Roberts said the district is emphasizing prevention strategies such as lots of hand washing, covering coughs with an arm (not hands) and most importantly, staying home when they really are sick, to keep kids healthy and in their seats.
“Also, it’s not too late for a flu vaccine,” Roberts said.
Live Oak Academy Principal Julie Ruisinger said her students have opportunities to win T-shirts, backpacks and notebooks for participating in the Get Schooled challenge. They can also play games to earn points.
“Students had the opportunity to sign up for recorded wake-up calls from their favorite celebrity,” Ruisinger said.