Incentives aimed at keeping kids in class

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Absenteeism costly of Middle Township district

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Middle school administrators are hoping prizes like an iPad and bicycles will encourage students to come to school.

So far, it appears to be working.

The program launched April 15, after the state cut $1.3 million in aide because of the school district’s high absenteeism rates. The state requires school districts to reach at least a 96 percent attendance each day.

On the first day of the program nine students were absent; before the program got underway 26 students missed school April 12. The middle school had a more than 97 percent attendance rate Thursday, more than 98 percent Wednesday and more than 96 percent Tuesday.

“We’re having good success with it so far,” said assistant middle school Principal Toni Johnson.

Some students are also cheering on their classmates to go to school. Students question other students who are absent the day before, and they get excited when students arrive for homeroom in the morning, said Thomas Jefferson, an 11-year-old sixth-grade student.

A handful of students are chronically absent, Johnson said, but the “numbers have significantly decreased.”

A state report recently released stated that the middle school suffers from a high number of students missing school.

The state said that the middle school’s college and career readiness lags in comparison to schools across the state and also lags in comparison to similar schools, also known as peer schools. Part of college and career readiness is chronic absenteeism, and middle school has a 15 percent rate.

Johnson said the goal is to have the middle school at 98 percent student attendance; 100 percent attendance would be ideal, though, she said.

“Each of us can help improve student attendance at school,” reads a letter sent home to parents about the incentive program. “The more we are involved in each student’s education, the more likely he or she is to succeed academically, socially, and in their future life pursuits. The solutions are easy. Make sure your child wakes up on time for school every single day. Recognize effort and achievement. Show interest in your child’s school activities. No matter what you do, the most important thing is for a parent to show their child that they care about and are invested in their education.”

Johnson said that students are excited about the incentive, which runs through June 11.

Students can win prizes on their own, as a homeroom, by grade or as a school. Grand prizes are donated by local businesses.

The incentive program highlights homerooms, teams and students that have the highest percentages of students attending each week, month and the remaining school year.

On Thursday, Seventh-grader Camryn Simmerman, 13, said her homeroom class may receive an award for having no students absent the first week of the incentive program. There are 21 students in the class. Homeroom classes could be rewarded with being able to wear casual clothes, have cookies or popcorn and go on outdoor field trip.

School district Superintendent Michael Kopakowski called the incentive program outstanding at the middle school. He is hoping something similar could be started throughout the district.

The $1.3 million cut in state aid is the same amount the Middle Township Board of Education whittled from the $40,176,407 operating budget adopted in March. Budget cuts include eliminating 17 positions and other targets areas include athletics and extracurricular activities.

For more information, contact Johnson at 464-1837, ext 4004.

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