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Why Online School Attendance Records Matter During Crisis

The goal of taking daily attendance isn’t to crack down on absentees, but to monitor that students are faring well through the pandemic, say Pennsylvania school officials working to keep students engaged.

by Mike Urban, Reading Eagle / May 4, 2020
Shutterstock/fizkes

(TNS) — Though Pennsylvania students will be staying home the rest of this school year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Berks County school officials say that taking attendance is in some ways more important than ever.

As districts have transitioned to online learning since March 13, part of that process is seeing which children participate.

The goal of taking daily attendance isn’t to crack down on absentees, but to monitor that students are faring well through the pandemic, said Bill McKay, Gov. Mifflin’s assistant superintendent.

The district understands everyone’s situation is different, so checking on who is taking part is about support, not enforcement, he said.

Other school officials in Berks agreed, saying it’s crucial to make sure that when students are away from the support systems schools provide that they’re still faring well.

“We want to be touching base with every family to make sure they’re OK,” said Aaron Kopetsky, principal of Mifflin’s Brecknock Elementary School.

While districts are required to provide the state with student attendance figures up to March 13, they do not have to report attendance during the closure. They should create local expectations for student learning and take attendance for their own records to track that learning though, state Department of Education officials said.

The state has heard from some districts that a number of students aren’t participating in online learning, an issue the state encourages districts to work to correct, said department spokesman Eric Levis.

Schools are using a variety of methods — including email, phone calls and posts to online learning platforms — to connect with students and their families, to answer their questions and to make sure they are able to access the school’s learning materials, he said.

Mifflin marks each time students take a lesson online or otherwise connect with teachers electronically. If students haven’t participated for three consecutive days, they’ll get a checkup call from a teacher, administrator or other staff member, Kopetsky said.

“We ask them, ‘How can we help?’ ” he said.

The goal is to push their education forward, but even more so to make sure they’re well, he said.

“We’re making a personal connection with them to make sure they have the technology they need, and internet, and enough food,” he said.

So far it’s gone well, he said, with about 98 percent of students participating at least once per week.

District staff reached all those households who weren’t taking part, and all had reasonable explanations, such as having both parents working and struggling to monitor their child’s online learning, Kopetsky said.

For those without enough devices or an internet connection, the district will try to help, he said.

“There are families going through some legitimately tough circumstances,” he said.

Brandywine Heights kindergarten teacher Lori Savidge said a key to successfully teaching her students online is to provide clear, concise and consistent directions to parents, who also are adjusting to the new normal.

“It can be a little overwhelming for them,” she said of parents.

But once parents are on track, so are the students, and Savidge said all of her 19 students are participating online regularly. If she’d notice they’re not, she would notify her principal to figure out what the obstacle is, she said.

“It’s so important that they attend,” she said.

When Brandywine Heights was planning how its online schooling would go, attendance was among the biggest concerns, and it was for the social and emotional well-being of the children even more than their academic progress, fifth-grade math teacher Lyndsay Levengood said.

It’s gone well though, she said, and while her daily online lessons aren’t mandatory, most students have checked in almost every day during those lessons or through their daily assignments.

“That’s been great,” she said. “We don’t want them stressing about school. But we want them to know we’re still here for them.”

©2020 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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