This year, schools have had to find new ways to make sure students show up to class every day – especially when class is online.

For Philadelphia’s Community Schools, focusing on attendance is nothing new. Consistent attendance lays the groundwork for a child’s education, so Community Schools work with families and community members to remove barriers to attendance and strengthen engagement and relationships in the school community.

Here’s how Community Schools have adapted their attendance strategies to meet the challenges of virtual learning and COVID-19:

Learning can be fun
One way to encourage attendance and engagement is to make learning fun whenever possible. For Greg Wright, the Community School Coordinator Coordinator at Gideon Elementary, making school fun means getting creative.

“My mindset is to make school so interesting that students no longer look towards it as a chore but more like a place of enjoyment…the price of admission is to show up. School is first and foremost a place of learning and preparation for the future, but a fun school climate directly impacts those outcomes,” said Greg. “At Gideon I bring a gameshow quality to each incentive – a holdover of my days watching Nickelodeon!”

Some of Greg’s most popular incentives have included virtual parties for classes that have consistently high attendance, virtual “pies in the face” for teachers, and even the chance for students to pie their parents in the face at home!

Addressing barriers and stress
Even when school and learning are fun, external barriers to learning and attendance are hard to overcome. For students facing hunger, homelessness, and other traumas, focusing on school isn’t easy. Community Schools work hard to identify and address students’ basic needs through City services and other community partnerships.

For older students, thinking about the future is another stressor – especially this year. Janelle Harper, Community School Coordinator at South Philadelphia High School, knows that many of her students are overwhelmed.

“Navigating virtual high school is so different from in-person learning. We have 9th graders that hadn’t even been in the school yet, and seniors getting ready to leave without being able to say goodbye,” said Harper. “We have to find different ways to engage our students and celebrate them for logging on.”

For Janelle, that includes incentive programs and virtual parties. Partners such as Starbucks and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia gave out nearly $1000 in gift cards this year to students who attended school 90% or more every month. The school also organized monthly virtual celebrations with holiday themes.

Staying creative
At all of the Community Schools, coordinators and school staff are working together to adapt to virtual learning and support students through a tough year. Every school is different, so success requires different strategies. Here’s what’s happening in other schools:

  • At Kensington Health Science Academy, Coordinator Antonio Romero encourages students through incentives and games. Working closely with his school’s attendance teams, Antonio has set up a number of small events for students attending consistently, including Student of the Week, Slam Dunk Contests in the school’s yard, and virtual trivia games.
  • Rennie Parker, Coordinator at Gompers School, helps to support monthly virtual AttenDANCE parties at Gompers to celebrate class attendance.
  • By helping families who are in need of basic services such as clothing, food, and stable shelter, Coordinator Caitlyn Boyle and the team at George Washington High School have helped families reengage with the community, and helped students reconnect to virtual learning.
  • At Locke Elementary, Coordinator Traves Saunders is working with the school attendance eteam to launch the “Never Being Absent (NBA) All Stars”’ initiative. The NBA All Stars program was created to celebrate and reward the students that attend school daily and on time. All Stars also received school swag, and the chance to win special prizes in a school-wide raffle.

These are just some of the great things happening at Philadelphia Community Schools this year. Community Schools draw on creative problem-solving, community engagement, and strong partnerships to adapt to changes and challenges. As learning continues to evolve during the pandemic, Community Schools will continue to support students and champion their success.