Updated: Mar 2, 2020
With the Coronavirus on every news station and the flu in full force across the nation and world, it's time to give a serious look at attendance awards / rewards in our schools.
In a homogenous population of middle class students, attendance awards may be marginally more fair; if everyone is well-fed and well cared for with access to medical services and medications, attendance awards would still seem to send the message that having a strong immune system, a thing over which we have little to no control, was something to be complimented on.
But most of our schools are not filled with a homogeneous population of middle class students. Then the message becomes even more murky, and attendance much less about even the immune system than about circumstances over which most children have no control.
Attendance is dependant on these factors:
*Parents facilitating wake up times and/or transportation. Envision a scenario where an exhausted single parent has to work nights and might not be as reliable as they would like at getting children up and to the bus or to school on time.
*Parents providing appointments with medical professionals who could shorten healing times with drugs like Tamiflu or even antibiotics for simple infections that may heal on their own but over a much longer time period. For those with inadequate access, a doctor's appointment or prescription fill could deal a fatal blow to a tight family budget.
*Parents providing quality food that is more likely to lead to ongoing health than processed foods, which are cheaper, more shelf stable, and more accessible.
*Parents providing a low-stress, stable living environment which is more likely to lead to fewer illnesses.
As a teacher, I often observed children who were responsible and resourceful who still were unable to get to school reliably due to circumstances utterly beyond their control, or worse, came to school ill and undoubtedly infected others.
Rewarding students for things beyond their control, even if that's the way we've always done it, doesn't make sense.
Most schools have stopped giving awards for "most beautiful" and "most handsome," recognizing that, at least in part, physical attractiveness has more to do with genetics and is nothing we can control. Essentially, it's "Hey, congrats on your face!" just as Perfect Attendance Awards are "Hey, congrats on your immune system and
If you were going to earn EITHER award, you are already reaping the benefits of your luck every single day; there's no need to print it on a piece of paper or put it in the yearbook, and doing so only points out a disparity that serves no one.
Something else to consider, research says at best attendance awards don't work and at worst will make attendance problems WORSE.
Let's give awards for things students can earn through work, effort, or character instead. If we have to compliment students on things related to health, I advocate for these awards instead:
*Coughed into Elbow Award
*Washed Hands Thoroughly Award
*Blew Nose into Tissue Award
But, if we're going to keep giving awards for perfect attendance, let's also consider these awards . . .
*No Glasses Award, for students who were born with good vision and thus don't have to wear glasses, or for students whose parents can't afford glasses or who don't yet know their children can't see well.
*Brought Your Lunch Every Day Award, for students whose parents sent them to school with a lunch every single day.
*No School Lunch Debt Award for students savvy and resourceful enough to find a way to pay or whose parents footed the bill for them.
Wait, these have more to do with parent behavior or luck than with student behavior? Yes, exactly: these are the same reasons why perfect attendance awards are silly.
Attendance matters and understanding that showing up is a good start for success is a valuable lesson, but providing awards for circumstances beyond a students' control and for which they are already reaping benefits is an antiquated practice it's time to end.