We love to see our SAMS students. As cheesy as it sounds, they are the heart of our school. Middle school kids are full of energy and eye rolls, enthusiasm and mood swings- and they are also the reason we work hard to build a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment at SAMS. So, fittingly, our expectation for attendance is simple- we want students here all day, every day unless of illness, religious holiday, funeral, or other family emergency. We know that sometimes medical/dental appointments can only be scheduled during school hours, and we understand. We just prefer families work to get students back to school as quickly as possibly.
We are trusted to work closely with Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to ensure that all students are attending school. It is our responsibility to report accurate attendance records to the county truancy offices- this job falls mostly to Traci Adams and me. The counties tell us the average student misses less than 7 days in the span of a school year. Using their suggested protocols, we put into place some basic attendance practices.
As with all of our practices and policies, every action we take regarding student attendance at SAMS is rooted in support and concern. Too often our efforts to support students and families with attendance concerns comes across like the authorities pursuing suspects. We want to eliminate that feeling as best we can and focus on the real reason we want kids in school- because without them our vision, our work, our school is nothing. ALL will learn and contribute here, and if they cannot, we want to help. We help families deal with a variety of issues that can lead to excessive absences like transportation, peer conflicts, school avoidance, emotional health concerns, physical well-being. Our intention is always to make sure that school and home are working together.
Many of you know that Traci Adams is the staff member at SAMS who works with the daily attendance. She needs to be notified by phone or email when a student is going to be absent. If she has not heard from a parent/guardian, she will try to get a hold of a parent/guardian once or twice throughout the day. But at some point, absences that are not reported by parents are unexcused because of management. Once a day has passed and we have not heard, we move the reason for absence from “waiting to hear from parent” to “unexcused” on Infinite Campus.
At this mid-point in the year, if a student is missing 8-10 days of school, I usually send an email letting the family know that their child’s absences are becoming a concern. The main purpose of the letter is to find out if there is any support the child or family needs from the school. Sometimes families are pro-active to let us know if there is a medical or family emergency. This is very helpful.
When a student reaches more than 10 absences, I usually sends a second letter requesting that any further absence be documented by a doctor for illness or reported to me directly. No longer is the parent asked to call the attendance line once that letter is received. These absences are recorded by me at that point. This allows for more in-depth conversations so we can work with families to help provide a support system or attendance plan.
If a student has unexcused absences, there are consequences at school. Warnings are given the first time, and further offenses lead up to SAMS-style in-school suspension (kids are isolated when possible but necessary access to learning is still provided). Once a student has more than 3 unexcused absences, the county is contacted. If a student is a Hennepin County resident, it is six unexcused absences before the student is reported to the county. Once a report to a county is made (in either Hennepin, Ramsey or Anoka), there are different protocols followed. We will always support families if they are brought into county truancy systems; however, we work diligently with families to avoid this from happening.
This is never a fun topic, and I just really want parents to know that we work with middle-schoolers all day, every day. There isn’t a situation or a problem we aren’t willing to roll our sleeves with and try to help solve- and that is especially true with attendance. We love working with all families to make sure that students feel safe, welcome and able to be at school; this ensures us the chance to make our vision- a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment- a reality. See you at school!
Guest Blogger Amy Kujawski