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Column

Maybe ‘carrots,’ not just ‘sticks’ could help boost PHS attendance

Princeton High School is using a few figurative “sticks” to encourage improved student attendance. Administrators and the school board would be wise to consider dangling a “carrot” in front of students, too.

Famed movie director Woody Allen was once quoted as saying, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.”

Life, of course, is a little more complicated than that.

But “showing up” is important – particularly at school.

Princeton High School is taking new steps to boost its student attendance figures.

A BCR story about the Sept. 27 high school board meeting, quoting Assistant Principal Jeff Ohlson, described how the administration is trying harder to get the message across that regular attendance is key to success in school.

Some students pile up unexcused absences. Others fail to serve detentions.

To those students, Ohlson has spent extra time explaining the importance of attendance.

He’s also told them that lack of attendance will have consequences. Being prohibited from attending extracurricular activities is one of those consequences.

“That has seemed to catch quite a bit of their attention,” Ohlson told PHS Board members.

PHS administrators are correct to apply a figurative “stick” to their recalcitrant students.

The high school, after all, has a five-year attendance average (2012-16) of 93.2 percent, based on Illinois Report Card statistics available online. That’s one percentage point below the five-year state average of 94.2 percent, and is the lowest of all public high schools in Bureau County. (Other five-year attendance averages are Ohio, 94.8; Hall, 94.4; Bureau Valley, 94; and LaMoille, 93.6.)

Not good.

But school officials shouldn’t forget the “carrot” aspect, either.

Regionally, we’ve located two high schools – in Geneseo and Rochelle – that both have a five-year attendance average of 96 percent, nearly two percentage points above the state average, and nearly three percentage points above Princeton’s attendance average.

And both Geneseo and Rochelle have attendance incentive programs that likely have something to do with their higher attendance figures.

In Geneseo, the high school has an incentive program where students with perfect attendance for the academic year (there were 37 such students for 2016-17) share prizes, such as coupons and gift certificates, that are donated by area businesses and the park district. Photos of the students are printed in the Geneseo Republic.

In Rochelle, the grand prize of the attendance incentive program is – get this – a car!

Yes, it is a slightly used vehicle. The winner of the 2016-17 perfect attendance drawing received a 2003 Chevy Cavalier from a local car dealer. And other lesser prizes are also presented.

The way it works in Rochelle is that for every 9 weeks of perfect attendance, a student’s name is put into a drawing. The more quarters a student has of perfect attendance, the greater the chance of winning something.

Are attendance incentive programs merely gimmicks to entice greater “showing up” for classes?

Perhaps.

But you can’t argue with the success of such programs in Geneseo and Rochelle.

And the extra days those students spend in classes might just mean the difference between future lives that are exceptional and future lives that are less so.

We encourage the PHS administration and Board of Education to consider an attendance incentive program that promotes the most complete educational experience possible for each student.

— Bureau County Republican

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