Quad Cities school districts have seen a small decline in the number of students who have been absent for too many days of the school year. National-level research has found that students who miss even just 9 days of the school year have lower grades and score lower on standardized tests. To address this issue, this past fall the school districts teamed up with United Way of the Quad Cities Area and the Arconic Foundation to launch the Challenge 5 initiative, urging students and their families to “Strive for Less than Five” absences throughout the school year. “The schools can’t do this alone,” says Scott Crane, President of United Way of the Quad Cities Area. “This is one of those issues that also requires support from the community at large. Often, all it takes is making parents aware of the impact of multiple school absences on a child’s ability to learn.” In the 2016-17 school year, 39.4% of Quad Cities students missed more than 9 days of school.  The Challenge 5 initiative will work throughout the current school year to reduce that number. Traditionally, the winter months are when student attendance rates are lowest, mainly due to ice and snow, severe cold, and illness. “In response,” Crane says, “we need to work even harder to make sure that students don’t miss school.” This year, as we entered these winter months, the early data was promising. By the end of December, the districts report, 29.2% of students have already missed more than 5 days in the current school year. This is a slight improvement over the previous year, when 30.1% of students had missed 5 days or more by the end of December. The superintendents are pleased with even this small gain. “This is not a problem that will be fixed overnight,” says Dr. James Spelhaug, Superintendent of Pleasant Valley Community Schools. “An important part of improving attendance is the work of shaping attitudes and beliefs. This takes years, not months.” Dr. Michael Oberhaus, Superintendent of Rock Island-Milan School District #41, points out that this decrease took place despite the number of absences due to this season’s widespread flu epidemic. “That was the point of setting our goal to fewer than five absences in a school year, rather than for perfect attendance,” says Oberhaus. “Illnesses such as the flu occur, and when they do please keep your child at home. But, knowing that your child may miss a few days when he or she is sick, please make an effort to get your child to school every single day he or she is healthy.” Spelhaug suggests that the best strategy is to take precautions to not get sick in the first place. “Drink plenty of fluids, get enough sleep, and frequently wash your hands,” he advises. Challenge 5 gives parents the following 5 tips for improving their child’s attendance: 1.    Set a regular bedtime. 2.    Prep clothes and backpacks the night before. 3.    Only keep children home if they are truly sick. 4.    Have a back-up plan for getting to school. 5.    Avoid scheduling doctor’s appointment and trips during school hours. For more information about Challenge 5, visit www.unitedwayqc.org/challenge5.

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