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Ice pops and playtime

Academic achievement is the focus for schoolchildren of all ages, but students can’t learn if they’re not present at school. With this knowledge, Phil Campbell Elementary School is taking the initiative to encourage an improved attendance record for PCES students.

September is Attendance Awareness month for Alabama, but counselor Laura Voyles said the school is implementing an incentive-based attendance policy that will continue throughout the year.

At the end of each month, students who have tallied no absences for the month will be able to take part in a celebration with their classmates who have perfect attendance. For August, students got to enjoy a sweet treat and extra playtime.

“We’re going month by month so that way every child can start all over,” Voyles said.

The idea is preventing chronic absence. PCES had 95 percent attendance for August – which is the target percentage and has historically been Phil Campbell’s yearly attendance percentage.

“Last year it slid just a little,” said Phil Campbell Principal Jackie Ergle.

“95 percent is a struggle to keep,” Voyles said. That’s the figure that keeps the state happy as well.

Students must be present for at least half the day for that school day to count. Voyles and Ergle emphasized parents helping enforce the importance of attendance, by making appointments outside of school hours when possible; not planning vacations during the year that will take their children out of school; and prioritizing school attendance, by tracking absences and by ensuring children complete any schoolwork missed during an absence.

To award perfect attendance, other activities might include a movie day and an “atten-dance.” Students who have had five or fewer absences for the year will also receive a Strive for Five trophy during the end-of-the-year Awards Day.

For Ergle and Voyles, the importance of good attendance is clear.

“There’s a strong researched link between attendance and high school dropouts,” Ergle said.

“By sixth grade, chronic absence is one of the leading indicators for high school dropout,” Voyles agreed.

Voyles said one distinction they are trying to make clear to parents is that even an “excused” absence ultimately has the same consequences as an “unexcused” absence.

“They’re still absent. They’re still missing that instruction,” Voyles said.