Did you know that chronic absenteeism in kindergarten and even pre-K can predict low academic performance trends in later grades? According to a 2008 study conducted by the National Center for Children in Poverty, 1 in 10 children in kindergarten are chronically absent, missing one month per school year; and in some schools, it’s as high as 1 in 4. This study goes further to show that 2 in 10 children in poverty miss too much school, preventing young children from grasping fundamental reading and math skills critical to scaffolding instruction beyond the third grade. Even the opportunity to build the basic habit of good attendance into college and career is missed. In Shelby County, over 28% of children district-wide are chronically absent, missing 28 days or more during the school year.
Porter-Leath helps children overcome this challenge through early intervention in its Preschool program. National studies have shown that Early Head Start and Head Start children are least likely to fall into chronic absenteeism. They also have a low rate of receiving failing grades or failing an entire school year.
There are four key areas that attendanceworks.org identifies as the best solutions in preventing chronic absenteeism: engaging families, fixing transportation, addressing health needs and tracking the right data. The Porter-Leath Preschool program has positive results in each:
- Porter-Leath engages families in the earliest stages of education to build a culture of attendance through invention, community outreach, volunteerism, and incentives. Porter-Leath works one-on-one with 5900 families to instill the habit of attendance for not only their children but also for themselves by engaging them to volunteer inside their child’s classroom or site, participate in monthly parent engagement activities, and to welcome home visits from teachers or family service workers at least four times during the school year.
- Porter-Leath prevents transportation issues by giving priority classroom assignments to students that live within the same zip code as the parent’s home address. Porter-Leath has Early Head Start, Head Start and/or Pre-K classrooms in 100% of all poverty-stricken zip codes in Shelby County. These zip codes were identified with families having annual incomes that fall below the Federal Poverty Level set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2016 income threshold is $24,300 for a family of four.
- Health needs are among the leading reasons students miss school in early grades. Medical challenges such as asthma and dental problems are two of the leading medical reasons preschool children are chronically absent. Porter-Leath Preschool works with medical professionals throughout Shelby County such as Le Bonheur LEAD and Asthmas Champs programs, Christ Community, and Watkins Family Dentistry while maintaining an internal medical action plan or profile for each child.
- Porter-Leath proactively oversees chronic absence patterns by tracking data through ChildPlus. This system goes beyond tracking average attendance or unexcused absences. Porter-Leath is able to breakdown attendance trends by child, classroom, site and program. Porter-Leath’s Performance and Quality reports monthly totals to all site managers to proactively address patterns of chronic absenteeism. Attendance goals for Early Head Start are 85% and 90% for Head Start and Pre-K.
With these effective systems in place, Porter-Leath is able to report successful outcomes like these:
- Cottonwood Head Start achieved a 91% attendance record in August with 180 preschoolers!
- Several classrooms at our American Way Head Start and Early Head Start preschoolers celebrated great attendance records during the first month of the school year with classrooms A, B, E, G, H, I and J achieving 95% or higher attendance, including Classroom H with 98% attendance!
- In our Connections program, Rayland H., a 5 year old kindergartener and foster-care child, has perfect attendance so far this year. He was only checked out once for a dental appointment, but he was at school on time even on that day. This is an awesome feat considering the difficulty of foster care children to achieve perfect attendance because so often, they have to leave school for court and doctor appointments. This success can be credited to dedicated foster care parents that were trained directly by Porter-Leath Connections staff and also, parental and child engagement through Tajuana Toliver, Rayland’s Porter-Leath case manager.