Challenge 5: Strive for Less than 5 Absences is Community Effort
It’s back-to-school time and the focus isn’t just on school supplies and uniforms. The Allentown School District along with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Lehigh County and a host of other partners, are launching a new Attendance Initiative – Challenge 5: Strive for Less than 5 Absences.
On August 22, community partners and volunteers gathered in front of Central Elementary School to kick-off Challenge 5: Strive for Less than 5 Absences. The event included some brief remarks by leading partners: Marci Ronald, Executive Vice President, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley; Sharon Dunn, Program Specialist, Lehigh County’s Children and Youth Services; Chief Keith Morris, Allentown Police Department; State Senator Pat Browne, and Dr. Gary R. Cooper, Interim Superintendent, Allentown School District. After the remarks, United Way volunteers set out from the school to canvass the community as they encourage local businesses and organizations to display Challenge 5 posters and hand out flyers to customers.
“The goal of the initiative is very simple – encourage our students to be in school and miss no more than 5 days throughout the year,” explains Dr. Gary Cooper, Interim Superintendent of the Allentown School District. “We are truly excited and pleased that this initiative has taken it to a whole new level of community engagement.”
At the start of school in September, Allentown School District schools will rally around the Challenge 5. With nearly 1 in 4 students being chronically absent from school, many ASD students miss over a month of school each year. The first phase of the campaign will run in-school and in-community strategies simultaneously. Research suggests that any more than five absences in a school year – for any reason – begins to have negative consequences on school achievement. The Strive for Less than 5 Challenge works to engage the entire community in supporting students, parents, and guardians on attendance. Schools will post leader boards that show how well the entire school community is doing in reducing chronic absenteeism. Students will be able to earn “rewards” – which will be determined by each school’s administrative team – for their attendance.
“When students miss too much school, they fall so far behind that it becomes difficult for them to catch up and can put those students at risk for success,” states David Lewis, President of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. “That’s why the United Way is so committed to this initiative. We have partners throughout the community involved in this initiative, because we understand that it takes the whole community to spread the message that daily attendance is the key to school success.”
Chronic Absenteeism is a complex problem, one the school district cannot solve alone. This same community-wide campaign was instituted in Grand Rapids, MI, and led to a 25% reduction in chronic absenteeism over two years. The community campaign focuses on education and engagement. From big corporations to local churches, from the corner store to the state legislator’s office, the goal is to enlist everyone in the community to be an ‘Attendance Ambassador’. Volunteers from the community schools and partnering organizations will continue to canvass neighborhoods to educate local shop owners, barbers, churches, nonprofit organizations, bodegas, etc. about the importance of everyday attendance, and then empowering those community members to be able to spread the Strive for Less than 5 message. The empowerment comes in the form of talking points, as well as flyers, posters, lawn signs, banners, and other marketing materials. The neighborhood shops are also enlisted to participate by donating goods and services that can be used as incentives for students and their families to strive for good attendance.
Community partners for Challenge 5 include: Allentown Art Museum; Allentown Police Department; City of Allentown; Catholic Charities; Communities In Schools, Lehigh Valley; Community Services for Children; Full Circle Services; K/S MST; Lehigh Carbon Community College; Lehigh Valley Community Foundation; Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network; Pinebrook Family Answers; Promise Neighborhoods; Sacred Heart Hospital; St. Luke’s University Health Network; Valley Youth House and YMCA..