Connellsville: Elementary school develops programs aimed at improving attendance numbers
A local school originally identified as needing improvement in attendance as part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has launched a number of programs aimed at getting students to school, on time, and keeping them there.
South Side Elementary School in Connellsville fell slightly short of the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) target, which requires elementary and middle schools to show adequate progress or have a 95 percent attendance rate each year.
The school’s rate was 94.63 percent in the 2002-03 school year, placing it below the requirement. However, an appeal by the school district was eventually granted.
In the appeal, Superintendent Gerald Browell cited several factors that impact attendance: a new home environment that has students getting themselves off to school; inclement weather in a district that includes mountainous areas where snowfall can be more serious; half-day kindergarten program where parents sometimes keep afternoon students home when faced with poor weather; lack of local enforcement for kindergarten attendance; the use of suspensions as a disciplinary tool; and the number of students who are placed in the district by the courts.
Despite the successful appeal, the school and the district are still committed to improving its attendance numbers, according to Principal James G. Pallygus.
“Some parents don’t realize that every day we’re here, we’re learning something,” said Pallygus.
To address the problem, a committee made up of two parents, two teachers, a guidance counselor and Pallygus was formed. The committee came up with numerous ways to educate parents on the importance of attendance, including sending notices explaining the NCLB law, South Side’s attendance rate, and how parents can make a difference in that rate.
The figures reveal that 80 out of South Side’s 335 students were absent more than nine days last year, which is 23.8 percent or almost one-fourth of the student population.
While Pallygus admits that sometimes children need to stay home for illness and it’s easy to lose track of how many days a child has missed, he wants parents to know he is concerned with this high rate of absenteeism.
The committee also sent home the district’s attendance and discipline policy — a National Association of Elementary School Principals Report to Parents on attendance issues — and a letter reporting how many days their child missed last year, which was to be signed and returned to the school.
By December, it is easy to discern which students are having a real problem with attendance, so parents of those children are sent a letter stating how many days their child has missed or been tardy and are reminded to make an effort to have their child in school in the future.
Other than the parents, the committee has identified another way to get students in school: by motivating the students, themselves. So, the committee has implemented an incentive-based program for students.
The program rewards students with perfect attendance, including being at school before 9:20 a.m. and not leaving early, with parties, prizes and eligibility for a grand prize drawing at the end of the year for a brand new bicycle.
Each month, students with perfect attendance will have their photograph taken with Pallygus. The photo will be submitted to the Daily Courier and placed in the school’s main hall. The student will also receive one ticket for the grand prize drawing.
At the end of each nine-week grading period, the school will have a pinata party and drawing for prizes for all students who have had perfect attendance in that period. Those students will also be given a ticket for the grand prize drawing.
Title I teachers Anita Tedrow and Christina Vaslavsky, who serve on the committee with Pallygus and the others, said the school’s attendance percentage has motivated them not only to address attendance, but also punctuality. Now that the first nine-week period has ended, they have a better idea of how effective the program is.
“We think it’s going very well,” said Vaslavsky. “There are students who don’t want to go to a dentist appointment during school time. That came from a child.”
Tedrow said she doesn’t want to give the impression that there aren’t reasons to keep children home from school. There are legitimate illnesses. However, she would like to curtail late arrivals since that unfairly goes against the school’s overall attendance percentage.
Pallygus said students who come late miss out on important time at school.
“That’s their time in homeroom. It’s a social time. It’s time to interact with each other,” said Pallygus.
In addition, Vaslavsky said late arrivals sometimes can take teachers’ attention away from the other students who were there on time.
Tedrow and Vaslavsky said, unlike similar programs, they believe their’s is more equitable and fair to students.
“Every student can get a chance to win the bike. All they have to do is be perfect one month out of nine and they get a ticket,” said Vaslavsky.
In addition to the monthly winners, students with perfect attendance each nine-week period also receive tickets giving students 13 chances to receive a ticket for the grand prize.
Along with Pallygus, the teachers and guidance counselor Kathy Grenaldo, the committee also included parents, Pam Kosinski and Darla Hann, who arranged for many of the monthly drawing prizes of pencils, candy, balls and knickknacks, which were donated by local merchants and organizations.
Pallygus said the school wouldn’t have been able to have this kind of program without the input and support of parents through the South Side Parent Teacher Committee.
“In this building, we have a good situation,” said Pallygus. “Our PTC is very receptive in every way. That’s a very positive group of parents.”
With four of the district’s buildings falling short of AYP targets for attendance, Wanda Reynolds, director of elementary education and curriculum, said other elementary schools have also developed strategies and programs aimed at improving their attendance numbers as well.