Buffalo New York
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Nine hundred families of pre-K and Kindergarten students in the Buffalo Public Schools attended Ready Freddy pre-K and Kindergarten orientation events over the summer where children (and their parents) got to meet their teacher for the first time, tour their new school, and take a ride on a bus to get familiar with the trip. Ready Freddy is a program developed by the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh that helps parents and schools to work together to put children and families on the path to good attendance and school success. Parents get to join their child on a visit to the school, prior to the first crowds of other grade levels, in an effort to start their school age years with a warm welcome by staff, community members, and the Ready Freddie frog – Freddie – who becomes part of the school family.
Ready Freddy supports children beyond their transition to Kindergarten right through the early years to ensure a culture of attendance from the very first day.
Other supports exist in Buffalo elementary schools to support attendance, including a check in program where school staff check in with students at risk of being chronically absent multiple times in the day: every morning, at the end of the school day and through calls home when students are absent. There is also a community wide campaign to increase attendance, which embraces the Attendance Works national Attendance Awareness Month strategies.
Attendance Awareness Month
Community Partners are united in support of September as National Attendance Awareness Month and the Attendance Counts, First Day, Every Day Campaign. The City of Buffalo, Buffalo Public Schools, Erie I BOCES, Read to Succeed Buffalo, United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and Say Yes to Education Buffalo have come together, as each organization has a stake in improving school attendance. The partnership began their work together through an attendance awareness campaign and attendance competition, making an effort to get the word out and acknowledge outstanding school attendance. This was accomplished through a media campaign, a Mayoral Proclamation, and marketing the first day of school with the message “Attendance Counts, First Day Every Day” on lawn signs, posters, sticker and bookmarks. These materials were distributed at City events, festivals and summer school programs by Buffalo Attendance Mascot Freddy the Frog. This attendance partnership will continue and expand as a School/Community Leadership Committee in a City-wide effort to address barriers to attendance and increase the numbers of students regularly attending school.
First day of school testimonials from teachers and school staff report that new students and parents to the schools were much less anxious. Fewer new pre-K children and kindergartners cried, and parents seemed much more engaged than in years previous.
Data from our 2012 attendance efforts show an increase in satisfactory student attendance by 7% points while decreasing chronic and severe truancy by 8% points. We are confident that our 2013-2014 effort will continue with this positive momentum.
Because Buffalo is a “Choice District”, students travel all over the City to attend school. This inhibits parental involvement and arguably presents a challenge to student attendance as well. In order to have a parent event at a school in a choice district, myriad issues interfere; transportation to school may be a problem, the school’s community may not be the family’s community, a potential lack of community investment in the school – the list goes on.
Being a choice district also affects the student registration process. Hundreds of Pre-K and Kindergarten Student registrations are often late, which causes students to miss the first few days/weeks of school. Kindergarten registration is centralized in one location in the City and is only open during the work day, which limits access. Registration deadline dates are also not well publicized, so parents may not be aware of when to register. Furthermore, even if they know when to register, the location may not be convenient for them.
Another barrier is the limited amount of days teachers are required to work. While Ready Freddie summer orientations in Kindergarten and Pre-K were successful, not every teacher was willing to participate and those who did were required to be compensated for their time – increasing the cost of the initiative. Though Ready Freddy is low-budget, the cost of teacher stipends are a major piece of the budget.
Converting attendance data from average daily attendance to chronic absence (supported by Hedy Chang at Attendance Works) has helped Buffalo to understand exactly who is missing school and how often. This has enabled us to focus on individual students and their barriers. In Buffalo, Attendance Works chronic absence data uncovered a 43 percent absence rate among Pre-K and Kindergarten students. As we all know, targeted interventions, based in data, are much more effective.
The integration of attendance in an existing framework has been a critical success factor. Attendance efforts have been integrated within the PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) framework already being implemented in Buffalo elementary schools, so that there is an existing team there to support chronically absent students.