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‘Here’ — Mon Schools taking roll on attendance effort

A little bit of history could also be assigned to all those hand-drawn posters Danica Rubenstein toted with her to Tuesday night’s Monongalia County Board of Education meeting.

It wasn’t that long ago when students in Monongalia County’s school district were simply trying to get by in the midst of the pandemic.

With COVID-19 turning traditional attendance into a patchwork quilt, some didn’t get by at all.

Unpredictability was the new rule after morning bell.

Students went part-time, if infection rates allowed, and worked remotely, if technology and the environment at home allowed.

Maybe the kid lived out in the rural reaches of Mon and couldn’t always get to a Wi-Fi location.

Maybe a mom and dad were arguing about money — pandemic-fueled job furloughs — and that was just too much angst, and distraction, for their kid to try to tap through an online book report or digital table of equations.

With one missed assignment turning into, say, seven missed assignments, maybe it was just easier to check out of class altogether.

All of the above, taking in the COVID years of 2020 to 2022, applied mostly to high school students then.

These days, Rubenstein, the district’s director of attendance, is working on getting this generation of elementary school students and middle school students — a population that has never known life without a pandemic, or post-pandemic proceedings, at least — into a positive pattern of showing up for morning roll.

Which was the motivation behind those posters Tuesday night.

The custom-created art was the culmination of the district’s “Strive for 95” poster contest.

Ninety-five, as in the district’s goal of getting 95% of its students in school, every day.

And the chronic absent rate — 10 or more unexcused days away from school — is perched around 17%, which was already an issue, even before COVID, she said.

In the meantime, she said, it’s working.


Mon’s district, to date, is boasting a 94% attendance rate overall.

Call it “a culture of attendance,” said Rubenstein, who was a police officer and juvenile probation officer in California and in various law enforcement agencies across West Virginia, before life brought her to Morgantown.

The posters, she said, are part of the marketing product, as they are the qualifying entries from budding artists in every public elementary school, middle school and high school across Mon.

BOE members will then pick a winner from each academic division, with results to be announced later.

School days (and knights)

There are all the in-school promotions, too, the attendance officer said, which are especially popular in elementary school and middle school.

Such as, “Sir Attends-a-Lot,” a statue of a knight in armor awarded monthly to the grade at Ridgedale Elementary boasting the lowest absence rates during that proceeding page on the calendar.

“I love Sir Attends-a-Lot,” she said.

She also loves that students and teachers are having fun with the campaign.

Chronic absences, in any classroom, she said, aren’t fun.

Empty desks derail the learning for any student — even the ones who don’t miss.

“It does disrupt the dynamic if Johnny’s not there,” she said.

“And when Johnny does come back, there’s that catch-up period — and that’s less time learning for the other students.”

Students in the younger grades are traditionally more compliant, said Donna Talerico, the district’s deputy superintendent who began her career in education as an elementary school teacher.

The challenge, she said, is getting high-schoolers to show up — or at least to not sleep in for the first class.

That includes the self-directed students, Talerico said.

As in, the ones who might miss from time to time, while still making good grades on the assignments they draw from Schoology, the district’s online storehouse for homework.  

“I don’t think you should get an A just by doing assignments on Schoology,” the deputy superintendent said.

“There’s nothing better than a classroom full of students, and a teacher in front of those students, with the discussion and the exchange,” Talerico continued.

“Nothing replaces that.”

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