Bargell: Summit School District right to take student attendance seriously
December 18, 2013
A dusty dragon peers at me from my daughter's shelf, a remnant of a prior season in our lives. He sports the colors that have been abandoned in favor of green and gold, and the small smile that nearly brings a tear to my eye. I know that even though he has fallen out of current favor, he embodies a legacy in our household — one I hope is not left on the shelf.
Once upon a time, the DVE Dragon was the light at the end of the school year tunnel, the holy grail of attendance. By the time second grade rolled around the girls knew that only those students who did not miss a single day would be awarded the famed dragon. They both wanted one all their own. Their presence in class meant much to their teachers, and to their fellow students as they were part of a small community with large tasks ahead, learning to read and to write and to assimilate into school. We encouraged them to go for the dragon, perhaps a bit selfishly as it made our days easier when they groused about having to get out of bed.
The small dragon recently conjured a distant memory of words offered by a middle school parent uttered long before we had any kids. In a passing conversation this dad spoke of traveling to and fro, hauling his two girls from dance class to youth group, and beyond. I groaned inwardly at his schedule, knowing with certainty that such a life was not for me. Still, he smiled, and continued with an almost off the cuff comment that it was just "that season of his life." He seemed to embrace it with exuberance, and his words provide some comfort these days as we run the kids to and fro. Oh, I still groan inwardly, but try to recognize that it 'tis the season.
I ran into this particular acquaintance not long ago, after many years without a chance encounter. He talked of his girls, now grown, living on separate coasts, pursuing their respective careers with vigor. I wondered then if he ever pined for the past seasons, although it didn't seem so as he was proud of how they had grown — and gone from home. Perhaps instead, it was a timely reminder that our season will again shift much too soon for my liking.
The start of formal schooling does indeed mark a change in seasons for parents. The dragon now sits as reminder that our children's time is no longer just our own. For those of us who choose public schooling, along with the tremendous benefit goes the equally great responsibility of ensuring our kids get there to take advantage of all that is offered. In the last few weeks the Summit School District, concerned about what seemed to be high absence rate, sent out a couple of letters to parents, reminding us of how important our kids are to their communities, and asking for input on an updated attendance policy. The letter mentioned as well that school attendance actually is the law. It's no surprise that statutes exist to mandate school attendance, the Colorado School Attendance Law of 1963 predates even my school years. The act merely underscores that every child is important when it comes to being present, from the gifted to students who struggle, and everyone in between. The act does not differentiate, recognizing we all have lessons to learn. Nor does it mandate legal action, noting that truancy court truly is the "last resort." It remains the law, however, that districts establish and revisit attendance policies, something that is being done while this column goes to print.
Although much has changed since 1963, reflected in the many amendments to the original act, the underlying premise that a benefit is derived from being in the classroom has remained constant. Our teachers have been asked to embrace a new age of collaborative teaching, and when members of the team go missing, their teammates miss out as well. The energy that goes into classroom planning has increased exponentially as classrooms have become more complex in the intervening 50 years. Lessons no longer come straight from the book. Of course, lifetime experiences sometimes arise when students learn more outside of the classroom than they do from within, but that does not change the underlying belief that classroom delivery remains paramount.
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In our family epilogue, the year after a couple of dragons came home with us, we set our sights on depositing twins on the shelves, hoping for another year of perfect attendance. It was not to happen, and only a single dragon graces each of the girls' rooms. Along the way, illnesses and family deaths inevitably arose and a day or two were missed, but always after considering the cost. I have to believe the powers that be at the district agree there are events that justify, if not require, a missed day or two, and would not warrant a trip to truancy court. Days should not be lost lightly, however, as there is an impact on our fellow travelers — teachers and students alike.
Once the season of school starts, learning becomes our kids' job, and I appreciate the fact their participation is held in high esteem. After all, the value of contributing is a life lesson larger than one dragon's tale.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters.
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