Halpin ECC finds creative ways to boost student attendance

Principal, science teacher use gift cards, other incentives to keep kids in class

When children are absent from school, it’s not just the students who lose out on their daily dose of instruction. Over time, campuses lose out on their ability to deliver it as well.

School funding is determined on the basis of students’ average daily attendance rate, so a dip of even a single percentage point can cost campuses thousands of dollars in funds needed to support their instructional programs.

That’s why Halpin Early Childhood Center launched an innovative program last fall to boost its student attendance rates.

Every day that students come to class, their names are written on small slips of paper and dropped into a jar. At the end of each month, a random drawing is conducted, and two lucky students are selected to win prizes. A similar drawing is held for teachers in the “100% Club” as well, and students who come to school every day during a given month are also rewarded with an additional incentive—an invitation to an “AttenDANCE” at which they can cut the rug with their teachers and principal. Because of the slight dip in attendance that sometimes precedes each weekend, classrooms with perfect attendance also get popcorn at the end of the day on Fridays.

The attendance initiative is the brainchild of Principal Jessica Tejada and science teacher Yady Blessinger, a participant in the University of Texas Collaborative Urban Leadership Project (UT-CULP) program whose research project is focused on attendance.

“Teachers were always aware of the importance of students coming to school in order to learn,” said Tejada, “but now they are much more aware of the funding issues associated with students being at school. We are consistently achieving attendance rates of 95–96% every month (up from 92.9%). Students don’t want to miss the opportunity to dance with the principal and their teachers. I had a parent once who didn’t even want to take their sick child home because he would lose the privilege of going to the AttenDANCE.”