As Attendance Improves, Wolf Point Works To Keep Youth In School

September is national attendance awareness month and the Wolf Point School District has one individual working hard to make improvements to student attendance within the district.

Vicki Bisbee, Southside Elementary School counselor, went out of her way to collect attendance data from the last four years all across the district. Bisbee presented this data to the Wolf Point School board at their regular meeting in August.

The good news is that attendance has been gradually improving district-wide since the 2014-15 school year. The bad news is that there are still a few students who are missing significant amounts of school or are not enrolled in school at all.

The annual average for students missing two days or more was 69 percent in 2014-15. The average improved to 72 percent in 2015-16, 75 percent in 2016-17 and finally to 80 percent in 2017-18.

Students with perfect attendance has also improved significantly from three students in 2014-15 to 10 in 2017-18. The biggest jump happened in 2016-17 when there were 11 students with perfect attendance which was up from seven students the year prior.

Bisbee doesn’t see the slight decrease as indicative of a growing issue. Every year, Southside gives awards including bicycles to students who have perfect attendance. Bisbee reported the school is giving away more rewards every year, which is something the school is proud of.

Chronic absenteeism has also steadily improved over these years. In 2014-15, nearly 200 students missed 15 or more days throughout a school year. In 2017-18, 144 students missed 15 or more days. This is still a significant number of students who are missing so many days of school. However, the numbers show a trend toward improvement.

However, the students who are chronically absent often miss huge numbers of days throughout the course of their school career. These students are often left behind in terms of education and participation in school.

Of the 62 kindergarten students, almost 40 percent were chronically absent in 2017-18. Four students missed more than 35 days of school and one student missed 58 days of school.
Kindergarten enrollment is also an issue for the district. Bisbee reported that 22 registered kindergarten students for the 2018-19 year, but there are approximately 60 kindergarten- aged children in the community.

The board and Bisbee discussed the possibility of working with the Fort Peck Head Start program to help make it easier for parents to register their children for kindergarten classes.
The numbers don’t necessarily get better as you go up in grades either. Last year, about one-fourth of first-grade students were chronically absent. Three missed more than 35 days and one missed 45 days.

Twenty-nine percent of second graders were chronically absent with three missing 35 days or more. One student missed 84 days.

More than one-third of third graders were chronically absent. Five students missed over 50 days and one student missed 72.5 days. Two-thirds of these students were chronically absent the year prior, half of them were chronically absent for two years prior and 11 students were chronically absent four years in a row.

Three of these third-grade students had missed over 220 days in their four years of school. For reference, the average four-day school week district has 160 days per year. By third grade, these students have missed over a year of school.

The fourth-grade classes had 19 chronically absent students. Two fourth graders had missed over 400 days of school between kindergarten and fourth grade.

Fifth grade had 21 chronically absent students who missed between 15 and 82 days throughout the year. One fifth grader missed over 400 days from K-5 and another missed 500.
Sixth grade at 21 chronically absent students with several missing over 400 days of school and one missing over 500 days of school. Five hundred days of school equals about three years’ worth of their education.

The data also shows that the school loses between 20 and 30 students on average between each classes’ freshman and senior years. These are students who simply stop coming to school completely.

The highest number of at-risk students in the district are Native American students. Many of the parents of these children are never served to appear in tribal court.

However, Bisbee hasn’t given up on these students who miss so much school. The school has discussed many ideas to encourage parents to keep their kids in school including putting out door-hangars that read “We miss (student’s name) at school. Please call to let us know how we can help.”

Additionally, the schools have discussed incentives for both students and parents to try and keep youth in school.

The board and schools have made it clear that they want to work with parents and whoever else they can to improve student attendance and enrollment.

Youth who miss lots of school in their younger years fall behind their peers and often drop out as a result of being so far behind. This is an issue the district wants to help prevent by encouraging regular attendance as early as kindergarten.