Tennessee County Uses Incentive Program to Boost Attendance

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Shelby County Schools in Tennessee have started an attendance campaign called Represent Every Day, which is a new effort to improve attendance following last year’s approach that saw little positive impact.

Jennifer Pignolet writes for The Commercial Appeal that attendance last year in the district increased by under one-tenth of a percentage point to 93.25%, in the first year of the program. The goal for last year was 94%.

The percentage of pupils who were chronically absent decreased by half a percentage point.

“The challenge with this campaign was that we wanted to make it as inclusive as possible but then it’s hard to highlight success stories because there’s just so many students,” Chief of Communications and Community Relations Natalia Powers said.

The district is in partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies and other community groups to provide incentives to help improve students’ attendance. The organizations hosted pep rallies at schools last Thursday to muster up enthusiasm for the cause.

Powers began working for the district in the spring, so was not included in last year’s drive. But she says that this year the program will center on ten schools that have the worst record of absenteeism.

The Achievement School District, which is run by the state and had 29 schools in Memphis and two in Nashville last year, will be included in the movement. The ASD experienced a slight decrease in its attendance from 92% in the 2014-15 academic year to 91% last school year.

PeopleFirst Partnership Communications Manager Garrett Guynes said approximately 3,000 pupils in the ten chosen SCS schools were inveterately absent from school. These children missed at least 10% of the school year. This year, Represent Every Day hopes to lessen this percentage by 25%.

“Chronic absences are not just a one-year issue” Powers said. “So the idea with the campaign is that it’s going to have a domino effect to next year.”

Michael Sheffield, reporting for Memphis Business Journal, says if Grizzlies’ Tony Allen says young people should go to school then they will listen. Allen will be the official point guy for Represent Every Day.

The Grizzlies basketball team will offer incentives, messaging and rewards, such as game tickets, Grizzlies backpacks, and memorabilia. Last year, Allen recorded an early morning robocall to inspire kids to get up and go to school.

A national organization called Seeding Success is supplying data to disperse to districts and schools. Shelby County Schools will manage the program’s independent stakeholders and prompt their schools from within. Diane Terrell, vice president of community engagement and executive director of the Memphis Grizzlies, said:

“Showing up is a critical first step in personal success. If you’re there, you have a chance, a real opportunity to learn and excel. That’s what we want for every child.”

Another attendance program has been in place in Shelby County for four years and is sponsored by the Shelby County District Attorney’s office. The Truancy Reduction Program was developed to identify at-risk students with numerous unexcused absences and offer help to pupils, parents, and educators to reduce truancy.

The 2016-2017 Bikes for Perfect Attendance program was launched on Thursday at Windridge Elementary School. Sponsors included the Memphis Police Department, the Hyde Family Foundation, and Wal-Mart. The program continues to need more sponsors, according to Fox 13 Memphis.

Last year, 255 school kids had perfect attendance at the 14 Shelby County Schools that were part of the campaign.