Typical of the start of the school day, Kristen Ryder begins her class at Williwaw Elementary School with attendance.


But it isn’t just a head count; there’s a little more math involved. Ryder’s first-graders gather around the white board at the front of the classroom.


“So, we’re going to build a story problem that shows our attendance today,” said Ryder, in her sixth year teaching at Williwaw.


By engaging her students in the process of taking attendance, Ryder says she is hoping to get her students excited about coming to school at an early age.


She and her students calculate the day’s attendance on a piece of purple paper, where Ryder uses her iPhone to calculate percentage. Students, or “friends” as they’re endearingly called in Ryder’s class, who are absent for the day get their picture placed on the “Wish You Well” board.


williwaw perfect attendance


williwaw perfect attendance


A chat with one of her first-graders, Chris Runyan, makes it clear — the concept of near-perfect attendance is sticking.


“We had 21 friends, and one moved away, four are absent, and we have 16 right now,” Chris explained. “We have 80 percent, so we didn’t make our goal of 90.”


Williwaw’s reinvention of taking attendance is part of the Anchorage School District’s Destination 2020 — a goal ASD has set that by the year 2020, every student will attend school at least 90 percent of the time.


“We are learning so much every day, every week,” Ryder said. “It’s really hard for students to get caught back up once they’ve missed a day or two of school.”


Ryder says making attendance mandatory starts in the home, as her students rely on their parents to bring them to school.


United Way of Anchorage’s Monthly Attendance Champion campaign aims to get parents involved through the businesses they work for. Each month, a business takes on the responsibility of pushing out content to their company employees and customers that encourages regular attendance in Anchorage schools.


“Parent involvement is at the core of whether a child is going to be a good attender of school or not,” said June Sobocinski, vice president of education impact at United Way. “It even starts before kindergarten — getting your kids engaged in things that make them excited about learning and showing kids how much you value education.”


When that message comes from a source students can look up to, it makes the message all the more powerful, says Likka McCauley, assistant principal at Williwaw. Her school’s teachers also keep track of their attendance, with their daily percentage hanging outside the teacher’s lounge — setting an example for the students to follow.


In the video below, United Way of Anchorage’s June Sobocinski and Kate Slyker with GCI, KTVA’s parent company, discuss the Monthly Attendance Champion campaign.



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