MARTIN, TN — If your kid isn't in class, they're missing out on learning at the same pace as other students.
Weakley County, Tennessee, schools are fighting chronic absenteeism. That's when a student misses more than 10% of school days.
In the 2017-2018 school year, they found that 11.9% of Weakley County students were chronically absent. That's about 476 kids.
They added the incentives at different schools for perfect attendance, such as pizza parties, movies days, and even a car. The numbers dropped.
The next school year (2018-2019) it dropped to 8.8% or 352 kids.
They want to get that down to zero.
It starts in kindergarten where students are learning the foundation of their education.
"We felt like at this age we need to provide them with something they can get excited about, a reason for them to come each day," said teacher Tiffany Frazier.
She realized students were absent too often.
More than 10% of students district-wide were missing more than 10% of school just two years ago. They were chronically absent.
"It's hard when they come back after they've missed several days to get them caught back up to where the other students are," Tiffany said.
During research for her education specialty degree, Tiffany found that incentives could work and they have.
At Martin Primary School, for grades K-2, students earn a letter for each day they have perfect attendance. They are trying to get enough letters to spell "perfect attendance." Tiffany's class is on day seven.
Once they complete the words "perfect attendance," they win a party.
Are incentives a form of bribing?
"I guess some could look at it that way, but we just want to give them a reason to be here," Tiffany said. "At this young age, for us, they don't understand the data behind what the future could look like if they are chronically absent. They could have a lower graduation rates or be less successful academically."
Her father-in-law happens to be Director of Schools Randy Frazier. He said attendance is a life skill.
"We know that a skill in the workforce is to show up and be at work every day, and we also feel it is important for us to teach our children it's a habit you need to learn and keep throughout your life," Randy said.
There are so many reasons why kids don't go to school.
"They're getting sick, catching illnesses that they haven't been exposed to before," Tiffany said. "A lot of it is anxiety. They tell mom 'My belly hurts. I don't want to go,' so mom let's them stay home."
Weakley County School District is trying to give them a reason to show up.
Each school comes up with their own incentives based on the students and their grade level. The school district is working with local businesses to provide the incentives.
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