The Attendance Fairy of Union Terrace Elementary
School attendance is crucial in growing a student’s academic and social skills, and emotional development, but it is an unfortunate barrier for many. For some students residing within the Allentown School District, achieving high attendance is an ongoing battle for a variety of reasons. Lack of accessible bussing, poor weather conditions, or lack of guardian engagement can render a student “chronically absent.” To incentivize better attendance rates, Communities In Schools of Eastern PA site coordinators Magan DePrefontaine from Union Terrace Elementary School and Heather Annunziata from Building 21 recently collaborated on an awards-based attendance program called the Attendance Fairy program.
Taking inspiration from similar models already in action at other district schools, Magan and Heather launched the program at Union Terrace Elementary School in October 2022. The program involves administration, security guards, secretaries, and other staff members throughout the school who drop into random classrooms each day to reward students who’ve made it to class with candy, stickers, or other small rewards. Classes visited by the Attendance Fairy that have full attendance also receive a flyer to post in their classroom to show off their achievement. Both a reward and the school-wide acknowledgment of a student’s presence in school help those with a tendency to be absent to feel “seen” in the classroom. These small acts support the importance of daily attendance while emphasizing academics and a student’s individuality as a member of the school community.
While some schools’ attendance programs shoot for monthly or yearly goals, Magan and Heather decided to focus on daily attendance after noting that programs with larger goals show more minor changes in attendance rates. With a more extensive monthly or yearly goal of consistent attendance, students tend to give up after missing even a single day, feeling like they’ve already failed. A day-by-day model is more digestible for students struggling to make it to school.
“If they miss one or two days, they think, ‘Oh, I’ll just throw in the towel.’ Creating smaller, more achievable goals for them has proven to be more successful in improving overall attendance,” said Heather.
Since launching the Attendance Fairy program, attendance at Union Terrace Elementary School has already seen an increase of nearly 3% school-wide. Of course, getting students to attend class is a crucial focus of the program, but that’s just the beginning.
“The Attendance Fairy program is focused on getting to school every day, but it also has behavioral, academic, and school success rolled up into it,” said Magan. “The more that the kids are here, the less we see negative behavioral interactions. They know what their schedule is, know what’s going on in class, and have the ability to dig deeper into other aspects of their academics, so the confidence and community connection made by being present in class supports the importance of coming to school each day.”
At Building 21, Heather and her students help bag the candy and other treats for Union Terrace Elementary's Attendance Fairy each month, often making visits to the school to demonstrate to the younger students the importance of coming to class. Giving back is one of Heather's main focuses for her students. She says that assisting with the Attendance Fairy program has given them a sense of pride not only through assembling the bags but by serving as an example for the elementary students.
Given the program's early success, Magan and Heather plan to continue the Attendance Fairy program throughout the rest of the 2023 school year and beyond.
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