Education and Attendance

Education is a huge component of United Way’s Steps to Success framework. We focus on important milestones like kindergarten readiness, grade-level reading, middle school engagement and high school graduation. While the specific ingredients to a successful school year vary grade-to-grade, there is one constant element: attendance.

Unfortunately, too many students miss a significant amount of school days during the school year. This is an issue known as chronic absenteeism and it affects students at all grade levels. United Way is proud to lead programs and support other organizations like Attendance Works in the effort to reduce chronic absenteeism.

Why Chronic Absenteeism Is Important

  • In the Greater Richmond and Petersburg region, nearly 1 in 10 students miss more than 10 percent of the school year – nearly a month of school. This problem exists at all grade levels, from kindergarten to high school.
  • Low-income students are four times more likely to be chronically absent than others. This is often for reasons beyond their control, such as unstable housing, unreliable transportation and a lack of access to health care. Even neighborhood violence and bullying are factors on why students miss school.
  • Here at United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, we have highlighted chronic absenteeism as an indicator for three of our Steps to Success. Attendance is a critical factor in helping kids read at grade level by third gradestay engaged through middle school and graduate high school on time.

2019 Attendance Awareness Campaign

September is Attendance Awareness month. We invite you to join us in sharing information about the importance of attendance. Here’s how you can help:

  • Raise Awareness. Use the promotional materials found on this page to spread the word about the importance of attendance in your community. Talk to leaders at your local schools, churches, community centers and businesses and ask them to post materials and share information with their networks.
  • Help Others. Do you know school-age children in your community? Reach out to families you know to make sure they understand why attendance matters and offer assistance if needed. Even small favors like providing transportation assistance on certain days can go a long way.
  • Get Involved. A relationship with at least one caring adult can have a substantial impact on a student’s attendance. There are many before- and after-school programs that are always looking for volunteers. Take the time to get involved with these places and make a difference in the lives of young people in your community.

Promotional Materials

Want to promote the importance of attendance in your area? Use our promotional materials!

More materials, including social media graphics, are available on the Attendance Works website.

What You Can Do

Everybody plays a role in ensuring children attend school regularly. Click on the tabs below to see how you can help!

Afterschool and Early Education Providers can provide the extra support and guidance that students and families need to develop good attendance habits. The strategies include:

  • Stress the importance of building a habit of good attendance to parents and students
  • In early education programs, hold an activity first thing in the morning that children are excited to participate in
  • In afterschool programs, consider making school-day attendance a requirement for participation in afterschool.
  • Create contracts or participation agreements with parents, making clear your expectations on attendance.
  • Track program attendance and chronic absence numbers carefully and share with the school district.

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

Learn how you can make the case to early childhood educators and out-of-school time providers.

Businesses and Chambers of Commerce recognize that students who built good attendance habits in school grow up to be employees who show up for work regularly.

Business leaders can:

  • Work with your superintendents to ensure the district is tracking chronic absence numbers.
  • Work with a local school to provide incentives for good or improved attendance, such as gift certificates, books, healthy snacks or backpacks.
  • Host a community forum to discuss the need for good attendance and build support for solutions.
  • Talk to other business leaders about the role attendance plays in improving achievement and school success.
  • Educate your own employees about the power of attendance

This Business Partnerships in Attendance handout from United Way’s Campaign for Grade-Level Reading lays out how businesses can partner with schools and communities to reduce chronic absence.

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

Parents and families are essential partners in promoting good attendance because they have the bottom-line responsibility for making sure their children get to school every day. Just as parents should focus on how their children are performing academically, they have a responsibility to set expectations for good attendance and to monitor their children’s absences, so that missed days don’t add up to academic trouble. This Parent Handout outlines strategies including:

  • Make getting students to school on time every day a top priority.
  • Alert schools and community agencies to barriers that keep kids from attending class.
  • Ask for and monitor data on chronic absence.
  • Demand action to address systemic barriers that may be causing large numbers of students to miss too much school.

For parents of secondary school students, check out this handout.

Given the role that illness plays in school absenteeism, healthcare providers have an important role in ensuring students do not miss school unnecessarily because of chronic illness or lack of access to health care. Strategies include:

  • Partner with schools and early childhood programs to ensure children and families get access to health insurance and quality health care.
  • Educate families and students about the importance of attending school unless a child is truly ill.
  • Encourage parents to schedule routine check ups when school is not in session; if they come during the school day, encourage them to return their children to school after the appointment.
  • Work with school staff to reach out to chronically absent students and their families to identify barriers to attendance

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

Read how you can make the case to health care providers here.

Mayors and elected leaders are especially well-positioned to advance a chronic absence agenda because they can use the bully pulpit to mobilize the community. In addition, city governments are typically deeply involved in an array of supports and services such as public safety, early childhood programs and community health clinics that can address issues that pose significant barriers to school attendance. Using the tools on the Attendance Works website, city leaders can partner with school districts using these strategies:

  • Share and monitor chronic absence data
  • Make student attendance a community priority
  • Nurture a culture of attendance
  • Identify and address barriers to school attendance
  • Advocate for stronger policies and public investment

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

Learn how you can make the case to elected officials here.

Principals can create a culture of attendance in their school and marshal the data to intervene with students who are missing too much school.  Principals should consult the Tools for Schools page on the Attendance Works website for five essential strategies to reduce chronic absence:

  • Recognize good and improved attendance
  • Engage students and families
  • Monitor attendance data and practice
  • Provide personalized early outreach
  • Develop programmatic responses to barriers to attendance

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

School Board members can make a big impact on increasing student achievement by addressing chronic absence in schools. By asking for better tracking and reporting of chronic absence data, investing in capacity building of staff to analyze the data and engage in best practices, setting district goals with accountabilities, and engaging community partners, it is possible to reduce chronic absence by 20 percent from baseline in the first year. This will have a significant impact on third grade reading, narrowing the achievement gaps, and increasing graduation rates.

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here. Also check out this FAQ for school boards.

Superintendents can lead the district and the community in monitoring chronic absence and intervening with students headed off track. Superintendents can sign up for the Call to Action on Attendance sponsored by Attendance Works and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. They can:

  • Own the Issue:  Make clear that improved student attendance is one of your top priorities.
  • Mobilize the Community:  Reach out to make improved student attendance a broadly owned and widely shared civic priority
  • Drive with Data:  Use data to raise public awareness, establish targets and goals, track progress and assure accountability.

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

Teachers know first hand that too many absences can disrupt learning, not just for the absent student but for the entire classroom. To help teachers build a culture of attendance and maintain it throughout the school year, Attendance Works has created this teacher toolkit, Teaching Attendance: Everyday Strategies to Help Teachers Improve Attendance and Raise Achievement. The strategies include:

  • Emphasizing attendance from Day One
  • Using parent teacher conference to talk about attendance
  • Promoting a culture of attendance all year long

Read what you can do for Attendance Awareness Month here.

Our Partners

For more information about the importance of attendance and how you can help, visit our partners’ websites: