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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Come to school, win a car

I won a gold trophy for perfect attendance in fourth grade. My teacher had won it in a dance contest at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.

These days, a plastic trophy (it was painted gold!) isn't enough.

Districts are amping up attendance incentives, reports Asher Lehrer-Small on The 74.

A district near Kansas City is offering gift card raffles and new bikes. San Antonio is trying to get students to show up with a chance to win a new Toyota Rav 4.

San Antonio families will be eligible to win a new car if their public school student posts high or improved attendance this year, announced Judy Geelhoed, who directs a charitable trust that supports the district.

If students aren't motivated by the chance to get an education, it's not clear they'll be motivated by a raffle.

Chronic absenteeism (missing 10 percent of school days or more) "at least doubled nationwide" in 2021-22, estimates Attendance Works. Students got out of the habit of going to school every day when classes went online, and quarantines continued to disrupt learning even when schools reopened.

So far, this year appears to be better than last year, said Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works. But better is relative: In Oakland Unified, which publishes absenteeism figures in real time, the chronic absenteeism rate has fallen from 45 percent last year to a still very high 25 percent this year.

In San Francisco Unified, chronic absenteeism doubled -- going from 14 percent to 29 percent -- last school year, compared to pre-pandemic levels, report Jill Tucker and Nami Sumida in the San Francisco Chronicle. They found 89 percent of students were chronically absent at Malcolm X Elementary, which is predominantly African American and Pacific Islander; Stevenson Elementary, disproportionately Asian American, had the lowest rate at 3 percent.

At César Chávez Elementary, where the chronic absentee rate was 70 percent last year, Principal Lindsay Dowdle and her staff frequently call the families of missing students.

They also help figure out hurdles, looking up bus schedules when the car breaks down, arranging carpools or even buying alarm clocks for students
The school also is offering field trips and weekly art classes as well as twice-a-week raffles to help motivate kids to show up on Mondays and Fridays, days when students often miss school.

"Every minute is precious," says the principal.

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