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SD Department of Education Nov. 2016  

  Terry Redlin Elementary students Strive for 5

“We can talk all we want about instructional strategies, improving our curriculum and all that goes on in the classroom, but if the kids aren’t in the seats, those technical things aren’t going to make a difference,” says Terry Redlin Elementary School (Sioux Falls) Principal Mitch Sheaffer.

Strive for 5
Administrator Intern Ryan DeGraff has been leading the school’s attendance awareness efforts. The Strive for 5 program rewards students for being in school on time, all day, for five consecutive days.

During lunch periods on Fridays, DeGraff holds prize drawings for students who have met the five-day requirement. Prizes are made possible through community partnerships with church groups, businesses, local athletic teams and others. A Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation grant funds a schoolwide drawing each week for a $50 gift card to Walmart.

Sometimes the school’s social worker delivers that gift card. “She usually contacts families when students aren’t coming to school,” Sheaffer says. “So our thinking is, let’s change that image and have her deliver the gift card because the student has been at school. Then if she needs to contact the family in the future for a visit that’s not as pleasant, we hope it might go more smoothly because she’s previously visited on a good note.”

Long-term goals
The school is also offering a long-term incentive, based on a similar program at General Beadle Elementary School in Rapid City. If a student achieves perfect attendance for the whole school year, the school will buy that student a bicycle.

Sheaffer and Ryan acknowledge that perfect attendance isn’t a realistic goal for everyone, but they hope these incentives help students and families understand how important it is to be in school.

“Our goal isn’t to have them just be excited about what they can get,” Sheaffer says. “Long-term, we hope they realize attendance is important not only to their learning, but their future, when they get beyond school and into careers. It’s important that these habits start early.”

Community involvement
“That’s why we’ve reached out to the community too, because the community understands that this is not just a school issue,” says DeGraff. “Developing these habits is a community-wide issue, because these young students will be our workforce in the future.”

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue is also teaming with the school to offer another unique incentive: a ride to school on a firetruck for some lucky students with strong attendance records.

Repeating the message
Just over two months into these efforts, Sheaffer and DeGraff don’t yet have hard data on effectiveness, but they are encouraged by anecdotal response thus far. The incentive program created buzz at the school’s open house.

“That excitement opened the door for us to speak more about the importance of getting students here on time and keeping them in school all day,” DeGraff says.

Sheaffer says they keep the message simple: “It’s important they’re here every day and on time. Just that constant message. Nothing spectacular or groundbreaking or earth-shattering. It’s just that this program gives us an opening to say it a lot. And I know our office staff have also been great at talking to parents, keeping that message succinct and repeating it, so people are hearing it over and over again.”

Your turn
Is your school or district doing something unique to promote attendance? Let us know, so we can potentially include your story in a future issue of the Online Zebra!

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