As state education leaders raise awareness about the importance of school attendance, a committee of Butte teachers is ahead of the curve.

East Middle School’s Dean of Girls, Shani Thompson-Bailey, said between 40 and 50 students miss class frequently. Some students at East – and, to be fair, across the country – miss 20 or more days a year.

When students skip class without a valid reason, it takes chunks out of their education, East Principal Larry Driscoll said.

“It’s like Swiss cheese,” he said.

Research shows that students who chronically miss class are at higher risk of dropping out.

And as the state Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau recently said, statistically, students who drop out make less money over the course of their lifetime than their non-dropout counterparts.

“Being here (in school) impacts their grades, their test scores, their future success,” Thompson-Bailey said.

About 10 East Middle School educators are working to combat absenteeism as part of their teaching evaluations. The evaluations go through three-year cycles, and the teachers are in their second year of assessment, which requires them to make a plan to better the school.

Missing school impairs more than just knowledge. Students can get off track socially as well, which further alienates them. It makes it even more daunting to get back into the flow of class, extra-curricular activities and social engagements.

The teachers are hoping to implement a plan that rewards students who attend every class every day, such a putting their names in for a raffle. A test-run of the program is planned. If the incentives get results, they’ll plan to implement it in the future school year.

While absenteeism is a national problem, small improvements mean a lot.

“Even if we can increase attendance by 2 percent, that’s huge,” Driscoll said.

Reporter Piper Haugan: 496-5572, or

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