‘We are making progress’: Randolph-Henry High tackles absences

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

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There was just one problem for Randolph-Henry High when looking at last year’s data. The grades were great, as were test scores overall, beating the state average in some cases. The dropout rate was lower and the graduation rate was improving. The only issue was chronic absenteeism, with 26.6% of students missing 10 days or more. 

Overall, the district took a different approach than those around it. In Prince Edward, school officials put up posters and had students make videos, warning of the dangers of being absent. Then in Buckingham, notes were sent home to parents. In Charlotte County, however, and specifically at Randolph-Henry, officials rewarded good behavior rather than just focus on the negative portion. And the numbers don’t lie. This way is working. 

Back in December, Randolph-Henry held one of their attendance incentive events. On Dec. 15, 277 students qualified for the event by missing two or more days during the second quarter. School officials celebrated this with a special luncheon, catered by the Fishin’ Pig, accompanied by lively music and some engaging games in the gym. 

“The attendance incentives definitely help,” said Randolph-Henry High Principal Erin Davis. “They are not the complete solution to chronic absenteeism but they create a positive buzz and get the students talking and thinking about their attendance. I was really impressed that 277 students qualified for the incentive during the second grading period. You hope for 100-150 so 277 tells me that we are making progress.” 

Even the 26.6% from last year was an improvement over the year prior, when the chronic absenteeism rate hit 29.5% at the school. Bit by bit, Davis said, teachers and staff are working to keep those numbers dropping. But it’s not just about incentives. Part of it involves making sure students have what they need at school. The goal is to eliminate any obstacles to success. 

Having what you need

“We offer a free breakfast and lunch to all students, stock a student supply cart in the halls, maintain a Statesmen Care program for hygiene items in the restrooms, and keep a student success clothes closet on site for students who need clothes,” Davis said. “(Also), seniors who need to work during the school day may qualify for a work release program or a student internship.” 

But the incentives do help. If a student has two or fewer absences during a grading period, there are different benefits. In October, for example, students who qualified were invited to an outdoor movie night on the front lawn of the school, with free pizza and popcorn. We already mentioned what happened in December. Then this coming April, miss two or fewer classes and you get to go free to a Durham Bulls baseball game. And finally in May, the school will host an outdoor cookout on the front lawn with inflatables, games and other activities. 

Randolph-Henry High students draw attention

With students drawing attention to these incentives on their own social media, it helps build motivation for their classmates not to miss out on the next one. Davis said she’s proud of the progress at her school, but recognizes they still have work to do. 

“Attendance has been hard but we just continue to try to promote work-ready attendance as best we can and hope that each little bit helps,” Davis said. “I do think that a lot of the students want to.”