September is Attendance Awareness Month for schools statewide, but Athens City Schools are offering incentives for both employees and students to stay in school.

Last year, the Tennessee Department of Education (DOE) announced that it will track and hold school systems accountable for chronic absenteeism — missing 10 percent of the school year, or two days a month, including both excused and unexcused absences.

National research suggests that Tennessee students who are considered chronically absent are 30 percent less likely than their peers to receive a diploma on-time, according to the DOE. The research also reveals that chronically absent kindergarteners are 15 percent less likely to be proficient in third grade Math or English Language Arts.

Athens City Schools (ACS) offered some incentives last school year to encourage students to have better attendance, but this year, the school system is providing more rewards for students to “strive to arrive” — as ACS officials say.

System-wide, the school system is handing out a trophy every 20 days to the ACS school with the best percentage of attendance. The first round of the trophy contest started on Sept. 6 and will end on Oct 3.

Because September is Attendance Awareness Month, ACS organized a poster contest for all students in grades kindergarten through eighth. The theme of the contest was “Team Up for Attendance.” Each school will have a grade level winner and all of the winners will be treated to lunch and ice cream at the Dairy Queen in Athens on Friday, Sept. 21.

Each month, one homeroom class per school with the best teacher and student attendance combined will win a pizza party, courtesy of ACS.

Every school has their own attendance incentives, as well. For example, North City School will give out “Eagle Bucks” and Athens City Middle schoolers will give out “Cougar Stamps” to those with superb attendance.

Along with these perks for students, ACS has created an attendance incentive specifically for teachers and employees. All full time staff members with perfect attendance for a 20 day span will be entered in a drawing and two names will be drawn. Winning employees will receive an hour lunch off campus.

ACS Supervisor of Facilities & Attendance Bob Owens stated that personnel from the central office will cover for the educator or employee while they enjoy an off campus lunch and explained why teacher attendance is crucial.

“If they’re not there, they can’t make up for face time instruction. If a teacher is out, it is impacting not just one student, but every student in the classroom,” he said.

The goals of the attendance awareness incentives will benefit students throughout their lives, Owens believes.

“We want to promote attendance not just for the benefit of our schools and for students academically, but it’s important as a life long learner to be on time and present, for church, to jobs, and for life,” said Owens. “We want to create good habits and patterns so that we have good employees and citizens in the community.”

According to Owens, Linda Comerford, an informational specialist at ACS, deserves the credit for these new initiatives. He noted that Comerford “wanted to do something to encourage kids to be aware of attendance”, and that “she was really passionate about it” — so the two collaborated to put all of these incentives in place.

For several years, each school in the ACS system has been provided a bicycle courtesy of Allen Carter and Athens Insurance. Once again this year, students with perfect attendance will be entered into a drawing to win the bikes at the end of the school year.

Additional games and prizes will also be granted at the end of the year to students with perfect attendance, courtesy of Family Engagement Coordinator Julie Lofland. All students who miss five or less days of school will receive a rubber bracelet at the end of the school year.

“The kids like these bracelets, and we know everyone can’t have perfect attendance, but those who have five or less days will receive the bracelets,” Owens explained.

Undoubtedly, attendance awareness is an initiative that employees from all facets of the ACS school system have worked to promote.

Josh Bragg, Athens City Middle School’s performing arts teacher, created a song last year, “Strive to Arrive,” to the theme of Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.” This attendance theme song has been performed at all of the schools in the ACS system.

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