Middlesex United Way: Attendance can make or break child’s future

September is Attendance Awareness Month, and United Ways across the United States are working with communities to raise awareness of the effects of chronic absence on a child’s ability to succeed in school.

Chronic absence — defined as missing 10 percent or more of school due to excused or unexcused absences — causes children to miss a critical amount of instructional time, putting them at risk for failing to meet academic standards or graduate from high school on time.

Your children can suffer academically if he or she misses 10 percent of school days, which is approximately 18 days of classes. Just missing one day every two weeks would be enough to reach chronic absence and can happen even easier when you account for unexpected illnesses, and other life events that prevent the child from attending school on a particular day.

It doesn’t matter if these absences are excused or unexcused. All absences represent lost time in the classroom and a lost opportunity to learn.

Attendance matters as early as kindergarten. Studies show many children who miss too many days in kindergarten and first grade can struggle academically in later years. They often have trouble mastering reading by the end of third grade. By middle and high school, chronic absence is a leading warning sign that a student will drop out.

When too many students are chronically absent, it affects the whole classroom, often negatively changing the class dynamic and slowing down instruction.

Fortunately, for students who may be at risk, there are things we, as parents and guardians, can do to help.

Families should avoid extended vacations that require your children to miss school. Try to line up vacations with the school’s schedule. The same goes for doctor’s appointments.

For younger children, you can set a regular bedtime and morning routine. Make sure they get nine to 11 hours of sleep. You can lay out clothes and pack a backpack the night before to let the children sleep a bit longer and eliminate the last-minute morning rush.

For older children, you can help set homework and bedtime routines that allow for eight to nine hours of sleep. Make sure that when the lights go out, so do the cell phones, video games, and computers.

It also helps to get to know the teachers and administrators. With younger children, make sure you introduce your child to teachers before school starts and keep in touch with the teachers. For older students, school officials can help you stay on top of academic progress and social contacts to make sure your child is staying on track.

Above all, set an example for your child. Show him or her that attendance matters to you, and that you won’t allow an absence unless someone is truly sick.

School success starts with regular attendance, and Connecticut United Ways and their community partners are committed to providing our youth with the tools they need to be successful in school.

Please contact Ed Bonilla at 860-346-8695 or ed.bonilla@middlesexunitedway.org to learn about Middlesex United Way’s work geared toward school readiness and success.

Also, visit 211ct.org to download the 2019 toolkit, “Count Us In! Working Together To Show That Every School Day Matters,” and read 2-1-1‘s E-Library paper, “Why Attendance Matters.”

Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.