This year's threat from H1N1 has caused a lot of us to re-think going anywhere sick. And that's caused some schools to re-think their traditional year-end perfect attendance awards. A number of them are eliminating it for 2009-2010.
One of them is Amarillo's Sleepy Hollow Elementary School. Principal Doneice Ray explained the thinking behind the decision this way: "We teach children to set goals. We talk to children about setting goals, and we focus on academics as well as attendance. (But) we suspected that we would have an unusual amount of children out sick this year. So when we discussed that, if we did not offer the perfect attendance award, that would take some of the pressure off of our families. Once they say 'we TMre going to have perfect attendance', that TMs a commitment, and they TMre very conscientious about following through with that. If you wake up not feeling well and you want perfect attendance, then sometimes you come to school when you shouldn TMt. So we decided that would eliminate some of those pressures of being here when you don TMt feel well."
Ray understands some of those pressures, but says the decision was made because there's a bigger picture here. "It TMs very difficult for parents because they are conscientious, and they know how important it is for their children to be here. When they miss instruction, it TMs hard for children to miss some of those things in the classroom that have not just been paper-pencil, they TMve been discussions that you can never recover. Our community is very conscientious about good attendance, so it TMs difficult for parents to not bring their children to school. Even if they TMre just a little bit sick, they like to have them here." She says her staff has had to send some kids home, even though they didn't go to school with a fever. "They come to school feeling okay, but that fever can come on quickly."
Some say that attendance award doesn't necessarily go to students who are academic achievers, but to students who can just brag they made it to school every day. But Ray doesn't minimize it. "I think just being here every day is a great accomplishment," she says, "because they TMve avoided chicken pox, and they TMve avoided strep throat and (other( things that are going around."
What she finds unfortunate about some students whose goal is to get that honor is how they tweak the system. "The thing that I TMve seen in the past," she notes, "is that sometimes, that drive to be here every day and receiving that certificate at the end of the year... They come until 9:30. That TMs when we take attendance, and then they leave, go home, and go back to bed after attendance is taken. It TMs best just to stay home when you don TMt feel well."
Ray says Sleepy Hollow's absenteeism peaked a few weeks ago at around 25%. "But it's getting better, we are improving in our attendance rates," she says. "In fact, we received word from AISD recently that we TMre back on track."
Asked if she might set up a "best attendance award" over the perfect attendance certificate, Ray said, "I think that's a wonderful idea, I will think about that."
AISD's Communications Director Holly Shelton tells me at least two other schools in the district have decided to eliminate this year's perfect attendance award.