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How to improve school attendance in high school

Good attendance is a critical part of being successful in school. When students maintain a strong record of attendance, they’re far more likely to really learn your material and earn good grades. Unfortunately, some students struggle with absenteeism for various reasons. 

The good news is that there are a variety of strategies you can use to improve the attendance of your student body. The first step to solving these problems is understanding them. Then, you can implement targeted strategies aimed at preventing absenteeism, supporting students, and encouraging them to strive for academic success in high school and beyond.

Understanding chronic absenteeism

Chronic absenteeism is a key issue for many schools. According to one study, chronic absenteeism is not only poorly documented but also a leading cause of reduced success among children in kindergarten and beyond. 

Administrators who hope to correct chronic absenteeism should first understand what causes it. While there are unavoidable factors such as chronic illnesses, most cases are understandable and possible to address or work around. A few examples of these factors are poor grades, bullying, and food or housing struggles:

  • Bad grades can demoralize students, creating resistance to attending school. children who feel they are failing are tempted to give up altogether than to fix what might seem like a massive problem.
  • Bullying is often a source of constant fear for students subjected to it. A student might avoid attending class to steer clear of those who talk down to them or tease them.
  • When students are struggling with housing or food, school often becomes a secondary priority. In severe cases, high school students may drop out of school altogether to help support their family at home, prevent homelessness, or provide food for younger siblings.

Once you familiarize yourself with the potential causes of chronic absenteeism, you’ll be in a much better position to combat it. In the next few sections, we’ll go over some techniques that you can use to improve school attendance and, in turn, set up your high school students for academic success. 

4 ways you can improve school attendance

classroom with empty desks

1. Offer extra support

For students who struggle with grades, a little extra support can go a long way. Failing certain subjects or receiving poor grades on class assignments or tests can have a detrimental effect on kids of all ages. It’s possible that these students could feel hopeless, overwhelmed, and stressed as a result of not understanding their coursework.

After-school programs and services, such as tutoring and clubs, are a great tool to use in situations like these. You can recruit teachers or even other students to help implement these programs and turn your absenteeism problem around for good. Try setting up a homework help lab in the library once a month for about an hour or two after school, or ask your teachers to lend their classrooms to after-school tutoring sessions on alternating days each week.

When students feel supported and cared for, they are much less likely to feel as if they cannot overcome problems with their grades. Offering an open environment where anyone can seek help can create a sense of security and encourage students to come to school again. No matter what issues they may face, students will know that support is available to them every step of the way.

2. Pay attention in the hallways

StopBullying.gov noted roughly 25-33% of students in the U.S. have reported experienced bullying at school. Although the majority of bullying occurs in middle school, many high school students report the same problems. The best way to address this issue is by paying attention to the warning signs.

Chronic absenteeism is one example of a red flag for bullying. Students who are experiencing this problem may be more withdrawn than usual. They may be less social or apt to interact with their classmates. If any teacher or administrator notices a student struggling with signs such as these, their early intervention could help to prevent further issues from occurring.

Unfortunately, less than 40% of students who experienced bullying went on to tell an adult or administrator. Children may avoid alerting authorities for fear of retaliation, embarrassment, or to not seem. Schools can combat this by implementing a strict no-bullying policy at school.

In addition to having a no-bullying policy, standards must be set up to alert adults when bullying issues do occur. No matter how observant your administration or staff are, they can miss or overlook some incidents. Consider setting up an anonymous tip box in the main office or advertising an open-door policy regarding the principal’s office at school. Students must feel safe if you want them to show up at school.

Cyberbullying Schools

3. Implement a rewards system

In the past, many administrators chose to combat absenteeism at school with punishments. Practices like banning kids from activities such as dances or schoolwide celebrations are just a couple of examples of this traditional approach. However, schools may find more success with implementing a rewards-based system instead.

High school students are in an especially unique part of their lives. They’re still teenagers, so they need guidance and support, but they are also entering adulthood and craving more independence. Reaching milestones in life, such as getting a driver’s license or a part-time job, may also contribute to these students feeling more grown-up than in previous years.

Since high school students are much more likely to desire being treated as an adult, a rewards system can work especially well for them. Instead of penalizing students for missing too many days of school, consider rewarding them for showing up, instead. For example, you might hold a special breakfast once a month for students with perfect attendance or recognize this group of students in a special monthly or quarterly ceremony.

Often, students of high school age will respond much better to positive reinforcement than they will to punishment. This approach still acknowledges their behavior but instead places the focus on exemplifying positive habits instead of disciplining undesirable actions.

4. Provide access to community resources

Students who lack food or housing security may face a whole host of problems outside of school. These students often struggle with attendance at school due to a lack of transportation, the need to help their families succeed, or other factors. Since these severe issues will always take priority over school attendance, school administrators must have resources available for students to access in these situations to help ease the stress of their life situation.

Knowing the options when it comes to community resources is a big part of this job. Creating a list of food pantries, shelters, and other community assistance programs is a great way to ensure that your students know their options. Services like 211 can also provide invaluable information to families who struggle with life circumstances.

Another option that schools can offer students who are food insecure is a take-home program. This entails the school cafeteria providing snacks, meals, and drinks to send home with students who qualify for assistance. If your school doesn’t have a budget for this, use leftover lunch meals for programs like this. You might also start a fund where other parents can donate money to the cause — getting the community involved in measures like this is always a good idea.

Providing resources and additional help to kids who struggle with daily necessities will not only help with school attendance but also potentially improve their quality of life. Studies have shown that kids who are full and feel secure at home will engage in class more efficiently and perform better academically than students who are food insecure. By offering resources to combat their problems at home, you prepare your students for academic success. 

Students sitting on floor with teacher
Photo: Google Edu

Fighting absenteeism at school

One of the main challenges that school administration faces when dealing with absenteeism issues is the assumption that students simply don’t care about coming to school. Often, that’s not the case. When you take the time to investigate and understand the causes of absenteeism, you are much better equipped to deal with them appropriately. After all, the main goal of the school system is to nurture happy, healthy citizens who have a solid education supporting them into adulthood.

There are many different ways that you can help students come to school each day. Part of this is considering each child’s individual needs and understanding what you can do as an administrator to help. Taking that first step toward fixing absenteeism means creating initiatives in many different areas in school.

Offering extra support, looking out for bullying, implementing a rewards system, and providing access to community services can all have a tremendous impact on a student’s life and contribute to their current and future academic success. 

Photo: Scott Webb/Unsplash

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