Every year at graduation time, the local news stories start popping up: A student who’s had perfect attendance since kindergarten. One who never missed a single day of school AND received top scores on their SATs. Don’t get us wrong. Those are great accomplishments, and we don’t want to denigrate what those students did. But we have to wonder, why are we valorizing perfect attendance in the first place?
Attendance is often out of kids’ control.
While a high schooler may be able to figure out an alternate way to get to school if a parent is out of gas, or struggling with opioids, or is simply unreliable, putting this responsibility on a third grader is unconscionable. Yet, when we award perfect attendance, we kind of suggest that third graders should take on that duty.
There are many, many reasons why kids miss school, and a large percentage of those reasons is simply beyond the scope of childhood responsibility. Families can’t always be counted on. Weather can cause all sorts of delays. People get sick. Which brings us to our second point …
Attendance awards encourage sick kids to come to school.
During pandemic times, we need to do everything we can to encourage sick children to stay home. And of course, perfect attendance awards do exactly the opposite. Some children are sick more often than others, but once again, this is outside a child’s control.
Perfect attendance awards take a toll on mental health, too.
What are we telling kids when we recognize perfect attendance? That showing up is the most important thing, period, even when they might be too sad, scared, or fragile to learn. Perfect attendance awards reinforce our always-on, glorification-of-busy culture. They send kids the message that it’s never okay to take a break. And with childhood trauma on the rise, that’s a dangerous point to make.
We’d love to hear—what’s your take on perfect attendance awards? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.