Aaliyah Moore likes going to school. Attending class every day is about seeing the big picture, she says.
“I want to get my education so I can be somebody,” says the seventh-grader at A. Maceo Walker Middle School. “And I got siblings who look up to me.”
Unfortunately, not all students have Aaliyah’s perspective or the ability to get to school in a city where many families struggle with poverty and transportation.
Last school year, 29,000 students missed 18 or more school days in Memphis, which includes Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District, according to data from the collaborative education group Seeding Success.
And kids who aren’t in school aren’t learning.
Chronic absenteeism is the focus of a new attendance campaign kicked off Thursday with the help of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies in partnership with Shelby County Schools and Seeding Success.
Called “RePresent. Every Day,” this year’s campaign focuses on crafting individualized solutions for schools with the most chronically absent students. About 10 percent of last year’s most-absent students attended these 10 schools being targeted:
- A Maceo Walker Middle
- Bethel Grove Elementary
- Charjean Elementary
- Grandview Heights Middle
- Hamilton High
- Kirby High
- LaRose Elementary
- Northaven Elementary
- Raleigh-Egypt Middle/High
- Wooddale High
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s goal is to reduce chronic absenteeism at the targeted schools by 25 percent in 2016-17.
“A student who is chronically absent year after year has missed an entire school year by the time they reach high school,” Hopson said in a statement. “This leads to students falling off track in the classroom, which not only impacts their achievement, but also limits opportunities in life.”
A. Maceo Walker Middle School, which served as the backdrop for Thursday’s kickoff, is among the targeted schools but already has made strides dealing with the problem. Last year, the school reduced its number of chronically absent students by 2 percent.
Principal Terrence Brittenum initiated incentive programs such as dance parties, uniform passes and prizes for students who consistently come to school. To help mitigate transportation issues, considered the largest barrier to attendance at Memphis schools, he encouraged carpooling and even collected umbrellas through supply drives so students can walk to school in rainy weather.
Last year’s campaign focused on raising awareness, “but we didn’t really see change,” said Seeding Success spokesman Garrett Guynes.
As part of this year’s campaign, principals at the targeted schools will receive lists of students missing two or more days per month. Working with community partners, they’ll speaking with those families to identify specific barriers that kept students from class. That knowledge hopefully will lead to solutions.
“These are your kids. Start calling!” Guynes said of this year’s individualized approach.
As incentives, the Grizzlies will give away T-shirts, backpacks, autographs and even game tickets to students with good attendance records.
Students who aren’t in school have been on the radar of local law enforcement leaders for some time. About 10 years ago, they noticed that a fourth of Memphis’ juvenile crimes happened during the school day away from school campuses, which implied the students were truant. As a result, Shelby County’s district attorney’s office launched a truancy reduction program with attendance incentives including bicycle giveaways.
Sixth-grade teacher Ashley Martin welcomes the extra help for students at A. Maceo Walker Middle.
“Anything that encourages kids to do the right thing,” she said. “We’re very vigilant in watching how many days they’re missing or late.”