By Anna Lenihan

At Hawthorne Elementary School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Community School Coordinator Alma Arango recognized a specific issue that needed to be addressed. Arango, along with her community school council, identified the challenge that chronic absenteeism was presenting and came up with an initiative to increase attendance.

The first thing that Arango did to tackle attendance was brainstorm potential ideas with her community school council. The council realized that the school had plans in place for students with perfect attendance, but they did not recognize students who showed improvement in their attendance over the course of the year. How could they encourage “outstanding” attendance for students who couldn’t reach perfect attendance anymore?

Starting in January 2019, the council decided to offer a special weekly lunch to students who were nominated by their teaches for improved attendance. On top of getting to attend the lunch, students with improved attendance were also recognized over the morning announcements and were given a special badge to wear.

The President of the Neighborhood Association asked local fast food restaurants to support the lunches by donating meals, and volunteers set up the lunches. By empowering members of the Community School Council and mobilizing volunteers, Arango was able to implement an innovative attendance strategy that took up zero school staff time and resources.

After examining the data, Arango saw that students who had a lot of absences in the first semester of the school year improved in the second semester after being nominated for the special lunches. As a new school year begins, Arango and the council are looking to build upon the progress of last year based on the data and feedback from students.

Some of the changes they’re making for this new school year is to start hosting the special lunches at the beginning of the school year and holding it bi-weekly, instead of starting in January and hosting it weekly.

School staff and the neighborhood association president gave out donuts to parents on the first day of school to begin a conversation about the importance of attendance— “Donut miss school!” They are distributing more information about the special lunches to parents to resolve confusion and clarify how the lunches work and working with their school’s video team to make morning video announcements to promote the special lunches.

When asked what advice she has for other coordinators, Arango highlighted the importance of being persistent and opening the conversation to everybody—including families. She explained that making parents comfortable is extremely important, and that parents should be reminded that they have key perspectives and expertise that is valuable. She also noted that sometimes perfect attendance is impossible and pushing for perfection can be demotivating. Improvement should always be recognized and rewarded.

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Alma's Top Resource
: First 30 Day Checklist from ABC Community School Partnership

Alma's Question to the Network - Leave your answers in the comments below!

What ideas do you have on improving attendance? What have you done at your school that worked or didn’t work? What have you learned from your attendance efforts so far?

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