TUSD hopes to make students excited to come to school

TUSD hopes to make students excited to come to school
Tucson Unified School District hopes to make students excited to attend school regularly. (Emily Biehl)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The largest school district in southern Arizona has committed to making the month of September “Attendance Awareness Month” for years now. Their goal is to get Tucson Unified School District students excited to come to the classroom and to increase attendance across the board.

TUSD kicked off Attendance Awareness Month on Aug. 30 at Sam Hughes Elementary School. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was in attendance for the kickoff along with TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.

Debbie Ferryman, the coordinator of the district’s Dropout Prevention Program, says there are a many factors when it comes to why students of all ages miss school.

“A lot of is has to do, especially with the younger grades, the mobility factor. And with the older grades it’s the working. A lot of these kids don’t have an option. They need to go out and earn an income because it’s put with the family income to make the family work," Ferryman said. “So, it’s not like when I was a kid - Mom and Dad took care of all that stuff and all I had to do was go to school.”

TUSD attendance numbers for the 2017-2018 school year show that Ferryman’s analysis of student attendance might be accurate. K-8 and elementary students kept attendance levels at 90 percent or higher each month of last school year, but numbers did have a larger fluctuation in the 90 percent range from November to February.

The numbers for middle schoolers and high schoolers fluctuate a little bit more. In November and February of last school year attendance levels for high schoolers went down to 88 percent and in April attendance levels dropped to 86 percent.

Middle schoolers did a little better than their high school counterparts. The lowest attendance level TUSD reports for middle schoolers last year is for the month of May at 87 percent.

The district is aiming to raise those attendance numbers by offering students credit recovery and to have a more flexible schedule if they have family obligations or a unique situation that makes it difficult for them to attend school in the traditional sense. The district offers extended-day learning at seven schools which means students can come in during a time frame that works for their situation.

Even with the extended-day learning, Ferryman says a key factor is how things are at the student’s home.

"The emphasis on the home. I go back to that because it’s so crucial. We need mom and dad or mom or guardian or whomever to say, ‘You know what, this 35 minutes is homework time and we’re going to talk about school and we’re going to put an emphasis on reading,'” she said.

Ferryman went on to say that she’s noticed something new when it comes to attendance: a difference between situational dropouts and generational dropouts in the district. She explains that situational dropouts are the students who struggle with substance abuse issues or family difficulties, whereas generational dropouts, which she says are easy to point out, are students that don’t come from a home where there’s a high level of importance put on education.

Another thing Ferryman says the dropout department encounters often when it comes to students who struggle with attendance are homeless students. She notes that for them, being motivated to attend school is more difficult because their main focus is on where they’re going to sleep or where they’ll get their next meal.

Ultimately though, when it comes to TUSD’s efforts to get students excited about school, Ferryman says she’s very happy about the way Attendance Awareness Month works to achieve just that.

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