My Little Yellow Jacket
74 days. If my son can hang in there for just seventy-four more days, he will graduate from high school. Don’t misunderstand me; my son has great affection for his high school. He loves it there. But he no longer loves being a student. Somehow, over the past two years, my child fell out of love with school. No matter how hard his incredible teachers and frustrated parents try to convince him to keep working and trying hard, he has given up.
When you don’t love school, you really don’t want to be there. No one wants to look into the faces of those you have disappointed each and every day. Consequently, I am now quite familiar with his school’s attendance policy. The current policy is rigorous and is strictly enforced. Missing class is missing class. It doesn’t matter if your absence is officially “excused” by your parents—as far as the school is concerned, absent is absent (extenuating circumstances are considered on a case-by-case basis).
When I examine the school’s attendance policy in light of what I have learned in our policy class, a number of things come to mind. First, the fact that the attendance policy has been amended three times in the past four years indicates that this policy was not implemented easily. It is evident that the administration wanted to make this policy change in order to do the right thing for children. I have no doubt that they have students’ best interests at heart. But for parents, this policy was initially very tough to take. The policy read like a mandate and the parents were not happy, despite what the Virginia Code says about compulsory education and the duty of parents to participate in their child’s education.
Upon reflection, the lack of issue definition and agenda setting may be the reason that there were problems with the initial implementation of this policy. Despite the fact that information was shared in school newsletters, back-to-school events, and parent coffees, parents still felt uninformed about the issue. In effect, they didn’t pay attention until their child had already missed too much school. Additionally, the positive side of the issue should have been well-communicated in an effort to attract public support. Examples of the policy’s success might have helped as well. The school currently has a 97.6 % attendance rate–one of the highest attendance rates in the state. That is important information to share with parents.
Without doubt, parents did not understand the effect absences were having on students and teachers. Moreover, students were missing the important message of accountability. If they missed class too much, they had to make that time up. They had missed valuable instructional time and needed to make amends. Moreover, some parents are better at navigating the policy than others (appeals, etc.). When drafting policy it is important to consider the democratic value of equality. Policy authors must consider if the policy has the potential to affect families differently.
God-willing, my little Yellow Jacket will buzz out of high school in June. His final GPA will never reflect all that he learned about himself over the past four years. There is one very valuable lesson my son can speak to quite well–missing class has consequences. Oh, and sitting in Saturday School, to make -up seat time, is no fun at all.