A couple of weeks ago, Sami arrived at our school dance. Sami is a dynamic 12th grader who is passionate about basketball and Star Wars. He is a charmer and a social butterfly. He looked excited at the entrance to the dance, surrounded by his friends, ready to pay his $5 entrance fee.
The only problem was, he had skipped school that day. In fact, he had skipped many days of school this year: over 30 days.
One of the biggest predictors of student success is attendance. My school is comprised of 380 students, most of whom are newcomer English Langauge Learners. Missing even one day of school can throw learning off-course.
90% is usually considered a good number for scores or grades. However, 90% attendance means that a student is missing 18 days of school in a year and is considered chronically absent. I’ve said to staff, “If an employee had 90% attendance, meaning they were absent 18 days in a year excluding holidays or vacations, they would be disciplined and in some cases, even fired.”
A lot of my attention goes towards students with attendance issues.
Like Sami. Sami spent the first two months of school barely attending. He told us he’d rather work full time at Burger King.
After many conversations, home visits, and meetings, we convinced Sami to re-engage in school. To his credit, Sami decided he wanted to enter trade school the following year, and realized he’d need his high school diploma. Sami started to have spurts of attending school regularly and was even passionate about certain classes.
Then, he’d cut school for a day. Sami’s attendance continued to be off and on.
And here we were, at the entrance to the school dance, knowing Sami had cut school that day.
“No school, no dance,” I figured. It wouldn’t be the first time I had sent a student home from a school event after they cut class that day.
However, I realized, Sami was here. And we had something he wanted: a dance.
Matt, his English teacher, was here too, chaperoning the dance.
“Matt, how much can you teach Sami right now?” I asked.
“A lot,” said Matt.
This idea seemed to irritate Sami. “What? You’re going to make me have a class? I can’t go to the dance? I’ll just go home, miss.”
“No, let’s review what you’ve missed,” said Matt.
Matt calmly led Sami to a classroom where he taught him how to write an essay through the lens of Star Wars. Despite his commitment to pouting, Sami got engaged with the lesson and even video-recorded parts of it. After Sami had grasped the idea, we allowed him to go to the last 30 minutes of the dance.
Too soft on Sami? I’m not sure. Should we just have sent him home?
I have a feeling Sami’s one-on-one lesson with Matt is something he won’t forget. I know enjoyed seeing Sami have fun in those last 30 minutes of the dance, inviting staff and teachers onto the floor, glow sticks strung around his neck.
We didn’t solve Sami’s attendance issues for good. But I do know that the next day he was in school, on time and looking bright.