At the recent launch of the “Be Here Get There” attendance campaign at Denny International Middle School, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced, “students with 20 or more absences a year have less than a 1 in 5 chance of graduating high school.”
This incentive based program launched by the City of Seattle, Seattle Public Schools, the Alliance for Education and Get Schooled, rewards students with less than five absences per semester with a chance to win prizes ranging from IPods to Bumbershoot VIP passes. Along with student competitions, “Be Here Get There” is sponsoring celebrity wake up calls and is providing strategies for students, parents and schools to improve attendance.
In addition to this district wide initiative, the JPMorgan Chase City Year team at Denny International Middle School runs a weekly attendance challenge also known as the Dolphin Attendance Cup. Corps Members track homeroom and grade level student attendance rates for each week. The attendance rates are then visibly tracked on one of four attendance bulletin board’s throughout the school.
Weekly winners, including highest overall percentage and most improved, are entered into a monthly raffle. Prizes that corps members gave out last year ranged from hot chocolate delivered to the winning homeroom, to a VIP lounge during school dances to skits put on by City Year corps members.
While whole school initiatives may be enough to motivate many of our students, they unfortunately don’t reach all of them. Denny is only a month and a half into the school year and already some of our students have well over five absences, disqualifying them from the “Be Here Get There” campaign for the rest of the semester. Instead, these students are supported individually by a City Year corps member. Each corps member focuses on four to five students who are struggling with attendance and provides one on one support to them, including calls home, creating attendance incentive contracts, and weekly check-ins.
The combination of whole school incentives and targeted interventions to struggling students will hopefully lead to the end of low attendance rates. We have started the year strong at Denny with a whole school attendance of 95% to date. We hope to keep this number steady if not higher to ensure that every student is given the best opportunity to succeed in school.
Text by Loryn Fridie, City Year Seattle/King County corps member