Featured School: Joe Hamilton Elementary
All Day, Every Day!
By Connie Gilman, Education Services Coordinator
Del Norte County Unified School District
“Nationwide, 7.5 million students miss nearly a month of school every year in excused and unexcused absences. That’s like every student in California staying home for a month. In Del Norte County Unified School District, 17 percent of our students are chronically absent, including 28 percent of our kindergartners.”
When this information was presented to me at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year by my superintendent, Don Olson, I’ll admit to being mildly shocked. I knew we had an attendance issue but I thought it was an issue unique to Del Norte and our population. Hedy Nai-Lin Chang, Director of Attendance Works, states, “Starting in kindergarten, chronic absences can affect academic achievement, especially for low-income students unable to make up for lost time.” As the site principal of Joe Hamilton Elementary School, the K-5 school with the highest free and reduced lunch rate in our county, I knew we needed to make a change. After meeting with my school leadership team, my school climate team and other K-5 principals in Del Norte, we came up with the following ideas.
- Our new mantra became ‘All Day, Every Day!’ My secretary tracked attendance each week for students who arrived at school on time and were not checked out early. Those in school ‘all day, every day’ received a ticket each week that was then placed into the monthly drawing for swim passes. All the tickets were held from September through June and at the final assembly we gave away four bikes - two to students in grades K-2 and two to students in 3-5. Parents started apologizing for having to check their students out for appointments and it virtually eliminated those parents coming to school daily, 20 min. before the bell, to beat the traffic.
- Students receiving ‘all day, everyday’ tickets were rewarded with 5 minutes of extra recess on Friday.
- Daily attendance of each class was also tracked and the top 5 classes announced during the daily morning message. The attendance was graphed on a chart outside the office door and many a morning students would gather around to see where their class was ranked for the month. Every class with 96% attendance or higher at the end of the month received their choice of a basketball, soccer ball or four square ball provided by our PTO. One of the teachers sweetened the pot - if his class won, he bought them a second ball in celebration!
- We also recycled two old sports trophies which became our Sea Otter attendance trophies for first and second place classrooms. I tried to make it a big deal when the trophies entered the classroom and the first place classroom was treated to a popcorn party, also sponsored by our PTO.
- Students with perfect attendance each trimester were rewarded with a pizza party at lunch and special medals in June if they had perfect attendance all year.
- At our last assembly of the year we awarded one of our moms a Safeway card and flowers because all three of her boys attended school each and every day of the year. When Don heard about this family he assisted in getting them recognized by the City Council at one of their meetings.
Developing the habit of going to school regularly is critical to doing well in school, college, and on the job. Our parents, teachers and community groups worked together to find ways to make sure more students attended school ‘All Day, Every Day’! Due to our focused efforts, Joe Hamilton had the highest increase in attendance of any school in the district last year. We moved from 92.6% attendance in 2010/11 to 93.7% at the end of 2011/12. While a 1.1% increase doesn’t sound like a lot we are on our way to meeting the District Goal of 96% attendance and kids are talking about the importance of being in school.
For more information and other attendance incentive ideas go to www.attendanceworks.org.