Engagement is what makes the difference for kids!
I am the vice principal of an inner-city school. It has been determined that our school is in the top ten percent of schools in our district of 124 schools with the highest rate of absenteeism.
So, you may wonder what is being done to help increase the attendance rate of the students in our school. First of all, our school is one of the schools being targeted for the Attendance Matters program in our district. This is a research-based program with many components (far too complicated to get into here). One component is having a breakfast program at our school every morning. While this breakfast program just started in January, it has quickly become the ‘cool’ place to be in the mornings. It is a very busy time, for sure. In addition to the breakfast program, there is also an outreach component for the families who may be having some difficulty with school attendance (lates or absences). While there were some bumps in the road at the beginning as we were learning which families would benefit the greatest by the outreach, it now seems to be going quite smoothly. Providing breakfast, however, only helps a small number of our at-risk students with high absenteeism actually come to school. For some families, our child care workers have been known to actually go to the homes of these children to bring them to school themselves.
This support from the district-based and school-based staff is helpful, but there needs to be more that is going to get these kids to come to school and want to be there. I strongly believe engagement is the key to increasing the attendance of our students. To do this, students need to like what they are doing at school, and have choice in what they do. Like David Warlick discussed at our District Focus Day, students need to have a personal investment in what they are learning. Learning should also be fun and social experiences for our students.
These thoughts were reinforced for me this evening at 4:30pm. Yes, 4:30pm and some of our most at-risk students with some of the highest rates of absenteeism, were still at school and engaged in their learning. You see, we have the wonderful opportunity of being a Community School. With that title, comes some excellent opportunities for our students. For some of these programs, students are registered on a first-come first-serve basis, while for other programs, students are invited into the program. We try to be strategic when considering which students are involved in these programs (especially when we know a certain program will be extremely popular and thus, difficult to determine who participates and who does not).
Every Tuesday after school, a small group of select students, participate in the Lego-Robotics program. That is where I was today at 4:30 pm. As soon as I walked into the classroom where the program operates, I noticed the engagement, the excitement, the collaboration, and the learning of each and every student. In fact, most of them were so engaged in programming the robot they had built, they didn’t even notice I was there. There were groups of two sitting at laptops, programming their robots to move across the special carpet in a certain manner. There were other sets of partners watching their robots to see if they were successful in their programming.
This was all quite something to watch.
One if these students has probably missed close to 50% of classes this year so far. But, here she was, at 4:30pm, learning. At school. Amazing. She was excited, engaged, enthusiastic, and learning. What more could we ask?
I doubt that this student will never miss a Tuesday of school while the Lego Robotics program is operating. This demonstrates the importance of engaging our students in their learning.
Here are a few questions for you to consider . . .
What can we do to ensure our students are engaged?
How can we engage even the most at-risk students?
What, if anything, do we need to do differently with these students?
How can we ensure our teachers are engaging our students in meaningful, real ways?
Can we expect this of all teachers? If not, why not?