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February 24, 2016

Focusing on Attendance, Early Learning Fuels Grade-Level Reading in Manatee County

As the backbone organization for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in Manatee County, the United Way’s first area of focus is attendance because we believe that it is foundation for academic success. If our children are not in school regularly, their chances of succeeding plummet.

Many of our students are already starting school two years behind, then they go on to miss more than 10 days of school and they continue to fall behind. Currently, 10,000 students are identified as being chronically absent, or missing 18 days of school a year, in the Manatee-Sarasota region.

Seeing the need for a conduit to share learning, discovery and connectivity between parents and our children in Manatee County’s Title I schools, the district hired 25 Graduation Enhancement Technicians (GETS). Their sole purpose is to work with families in our Title I schools who are struggling with getting their children to school and keeping them there throughout the day. The GETS work with school social workers (who have had a half day added to their week), when necessary, to educate and reduce barriers faced by families.

Some of the things being done to support this effort are:

  • Participating in the Attendance Awareness Poster Contest, which was funded by The Patterson Foundation, that reached more than 38,000 students regionwide
  • Developing incentive items (magnets with the phone numbers of all of our schools on them, ponchos and umbrellas for rainy day walks to school, stickers to be used as “well-done” rewards) to be used for both practical purposes as well as congratulatory messaging and encouragement
  • Recording phone messages that are sent out regularly from local “celebrities” to encourage students to attend school every day
  • The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading in Manatee and Sarasota counties has developed targeted advertising that has been strategically placed throughout neighborhoods surrounding Title-I schools
  • Later this month, mini-grants will be awarded to GETS who applied for $250 each to use to reduce barriers to attendance
  • Most importantly, the district is providing baseline data to show where our children were and where they are now so that we can learn from our efforts

Another step forward is that an Early Learning Community Task Force has been formed (MCPS, Manatee Community Action Agency, and Early Learning Coalition) that will support the work and goals of attendance in Manatee County. As a task force, they have collectively pulled, analyzed, and studied their attendance data. Based on the data, they have made collaborative decisions for each of their organizations that support initiatives to increase attendance, including:

  • Sending a common letter home to parents detailing the importance of attendance
  • Posting ‘Every Day Counts’ signs at each of the schools and centers (Spanish and English)
  • Making calls home that highlight the importance of attendance when students are absent
  • Planning a dinner for all providers with an agenda that focused on strategies for improving attendance — more than 300 people attended

The goal of the Early Learning Community Task Force is to collaborate, leverage resources, and implement initiatives that will address the needs of all early learners and their families in our community in order to ensure their present and future successes.

They intend to develop a framework that will enable other organizations in the state to replicate their work for the benefit all early learners throughout our state.

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