Sandusky Middle School  05

Students learn about topography and bodies of water during a field trip for Sandusky Middle School at Riveredge Park on Sept. 3, 2019. Lynchburg City Schools has started an attendance initiative that division officials hope will reduce the number of excused and unexcused absences this year by as much as 10%.

Lynchburg City Schools Superintendent Crystal Edwards said showing up is half the battle.

“When children are tardy or absent they not only miss quality instruction and exposure to engaging academic content, but they also miss out on experiential learning activities that foster critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration with their peers,” Edwards said. “These days add up through the course of the year.”

This month LCS launched the “Don’t Sleep on School” campaign to promote the importance of attendance in academic success.

“Our Don’t Sleep on School campaign conveys an important message to our students and their families regarding the value of being present every day,” Edwards said. “This campaign is not only about students but also involves students by allowing them to share their ideas for improving student attendance and incorporating meaningful incentives.”

Lynchburg City Schools had about 8,200 students enrolled during the 2018-19 school year and nearly 1,300 of these students missed 18 days or more, according to Anne Bond- Gentry — supervisor of health services with LCS.

“Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 18 days or more during the school year,” Bond-Gentry said. “That is the equivalent of about two days a month. We are reaching out to let parents know that if their children are well they need to be in school and we want them here.”

Bond-Gentry said the attendance initiative now is part of the division’s strategic plan and division officials are hoping to reduce the number of excused and unexcused absences this year by as much as 10%.

“If we can get it down by 5% to 10% we would be making good progress,” she said. “We are going to look at the numbers at the end of the year and compare them to last year.”

Bond-Gentry said excused and unexcused absences potentially could affect the academic performance of students.

“We haven’t really looked at those numbers yet but I imagine that it does affect the success of some of these students,” she said. “If you’re missing that much instruction time, you get behind and it can be difficult to get caught up.”

LCS spokesperson Cindy Babb said the division launched a video earlier this month to promote the initiative and “Don’t Sleep on School” posters have been placed at River Ridge mall and on several city buses and buildings.

“This initiative is running through the entire school year, but we are really plugging it this month because September is Attendance Awareness Month,” Babb said. “Our high school students have really been involved with getting the word out and have had some really great ideas on how we can improve.”

Babb said division officials also are gathering input from students on why they come to school and why they feel attendance is important.

“This is a division-wide thing, but we are leaving it up to the individual schools to decide what they want to do,” Babb said. “Its been pretty interesting to see what they have come up with.”

Heritage Elementary School Principal Sharon Anderson said each grade in the school is doing something different to promote better attendance.

“Our third grade is doing attendance bingo,” Anderson said. “We have a random number generator and each class that has perfect attendance gets another spot filled that day. When they get bingo the entire class gets a reward that could include something like an extra recess. Other grades are doing different things and are offering different rewards.

Anderson said even though it is only a month into the new school year the initiative is making a difference in attendance numbers.

“It has been positive so far,” Anderson said. “Everyone is excited about it, and we hope to keep that going.”

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Shannon Keith covers Bedford County for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5530.

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