Attendance Awareness Month: How Our Memphis Affiliate Is Working to Eliminate Chronic Absenteeism


Each year, September is a month we dedicate to focusing on attendance awareness. Unfortunately, there are students who have already missed the first 20 days of school this year. These students have already fallen far behind in their academics. Missing the first 20 days is a strong predictor of probable outcomes for those students for the remainder of the school year. In Memphis and Shelby County, there were 29,048 students chronically absent last year. For too long, school districts have only focused their attention on schools’ average daily attendance and truancy - NOT chronic absenteeism.


So what is chronic absenteeism and why does it this matter?

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of a school year - for most schools that’s 18 days per year or 2 days every month on average. When we consider that last year 29,048 students lost a total of 522,864 days of valuable instructional time -  it matters! The fact that there are students who have already surpassed the 18 day threshold by September is another example of why – it matters! Missing school has consequences for children and ultimately can set them on a path to becoming a drop out.

How is Communities In Schools of Tennessee helping to address this community issue in Memphis?

First, we are working with community partners and our local districts to collect the right data to identify patterns of chronic absenteeism. Second, our Site Coordinators are developing school support plans that include evidenced based interventions unique to each school that will allow them to help students overcome the barriers they face when coming to school (such as basic needs - uniforms and school supplies, housing instability, transportation, childcare, and healthcare). And finally, we are: communicating with students and parents – helping them to see the importance of attendance on their educational future and celebrating their attendance success; developing partnerships and brokering services that help to ensure that students’ needs are met; and, working with our schools to set attendance goals based on chronic absenteeism data.

It’s often been said “you can’t teach to an empty desk” so attendance is a critical aspect of a student’s success. CISTN at Memphis is working to help build a culture that celebrates attendance while looking beyond traditional approaches to address the need.

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