Businesses offer school attendance incentives

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 10:55
  • A group of four elementary students on their way to school on Sept. 11: From left to right: Ziona Rose, sixth grade; Anessa Baker, fourth; Kayleigh Meneses, sixth grade; and Spencer Meneses, third grade. Thus far, all four say they have perfect attendance records. PHOTO FOR THE STAR BY AMY ARMSTRONG

According to the Anchorage School District, around 40 percent of high school seniors and 34 percent of juniors had 17 or more absences last school year.

That’s more than three weeks of missed education, and it’s a number ASD officials say is unsatisfactory.

A number of local businesses agree, and they’re offering reward incentives for ASD students who achieve perfect or near-perfect attendance.

“We were approached by local businesses asking how they can support our student attendance efforts because they see the value in it,” said Superintendent Ed Graff. “Businesses see a direct connection to it in their workforce. They look for employees who have skills and attributes of knowing what it means to be consistent, dependable and responsible, as well as have an appreciation for what you do and hold yourself accountable. This all comes from good attendance.”

A ramped-up effort directed by the non-profit School Business Partnership connects local businesses interested in supporting academic achievement, to nearby schools.

This is the third school year that Troy Jarvis, general manager of Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge of South Anchorage, has offered a new vehicle to one high school student chosen from among the pool of students with a perfect attendance record.

It’s called the “Drive for Perfect Attendance,” and this year’s vehicle is a 2016 Jeep Renegade. It’ll be parked in front of each of the district’s high schools through the month of September. 

Next May, five high school juniors and seniors with perfect attendance will be randomly selected, and given a key that might start of five Renegades lined up at the dealership.

It’s exciting, Jarvis said, to watch each of the five students try the key.

But for now, he’s focused on encouraging other business owners to join the rewards effort he spearheaded.

“As a business owner, I began to realize that the younger generation does not have the same work ethic that my generation grew up with and now has,” Jarvis said.

He noted that ASD students did have good scores on benchmark testing as well as college preparatory exams in spite of poor school attendance.

Yet, as an employer, he is concerned that students are not learning the critical basic skills of reporting to work regularly and on time. He said that the attendance rate posted by school district officials is not acceptable for an employer. He shared his concerns with school board members, who agreed and approved his plan of giving away a car for perfect attendance.

“It doesn’t matter how smart you are,” Jarvis said. “You have to show up. Being at work only 70 percent of the time isn’t going to keep that job.”

Jarvis said the attendance reward program is in its infancy, and he thinks he can convince other business owners to participate based on the better work habits students could develop.

Two converts, GCI and Alaska Airlines, are partnering to reward one middle school student per quarter with an iPad. Additionally, one high school student per quarter will receive 25,000 air miles, and four will receive 50,000 air miles at the end of the school year. A Disney trip for a family of four is being given by Saltchuk to one elementary student. And For Fun Alaska and the IBEW are giving three classroom parties at the elementary level, and one all-school ultimate field day party featuring inflatable games such as mazes, slides and bouncy boxing at the middle school level.

Last year marked the first year middle school students have been included in the attendance rewards program, and Cheri Spink, executive director for the School Business Partnership, is beyond tickled.

“Middle school is a tough time for kids,” she said.

It’s also the time frame in which attendance rates take significant drops, according to ASD records. For the 2014-2015 school year, only 15 percent of sixth graders missed 17 days or more, compared to 20 percent of seventh graders and 22 percent of eight graders. In elementary school, the rate is only 12 percent.

Spink said she’s concerned by the rapid decrease in high attendance rates within the middle school population.

Middle school is when students prepare for high school, she said.

“If they are not in school they cannot succeed,” Spink said. “Teachers cannot do their job if the students are not in their seat.”

The Anchorage-area nudge toward improving attendance comes at an apropos time, when the national spotlight already shines on student attendance. September is National Attendance Awareness Month sponsored by Attendance Works, which is affiliated with the Child and Family Policy Center based in Des Moines, Iowa. The Anchorage School District is a participant in the event.

For Erin Nisonger, the attendance secretary at Eagle River Elementary School, encouraging students to come to school is a year-long endeavor that isn’t as glamorous as giving away prizes and parties.

“Our attendance efforts are really individualized,” she said. “Our focus is definitely on tracking the individual student attendance to identify and follow up with students who are racking up absences. We follow up with our families to see if there is a challenging situation in the home that is keeping the student out of school and to offer what support we can give them so that the student is in school.”

Eagle River Elementary has begun its own on-site reward program. Students with perfect attendance each semester this school year will receive a decorative attendance certificate. Students with perfect attendance both semesters will receive a more elaborate certificate. Yes, Nisonger recognizes, this is a piece of paper and not an iPad. But as she points out, that piece of paper and the recognition it brings in front of the student’s peers is very valuable to elementary-age students.

Pat Higgins, school board member, he she’s grateful to the business owners that are stepping up to provide reward incentives and for school specific efforts to increase attendance through incentives.

“I’ve always been more of a fan of the carrot than the stick,” he said.

To learn more about the effort to improve student attendance, go online at www.asdk12.org/parents/attendance.

 

Connect with Amy Armstrong via email at amyarmstrong@gci.net or online at www.facebook.com/pages/Armstrong-Communications-Words-by-Amy-Marie.