Lincoln Elementary Surprise

Students at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School on Main Street were treated to a surprise party on Jan. 11, 2019. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Students at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts Schools got a surprise start to their Friday, claiming prizes like Zaxby’s gift cards and tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters and high-fiving guests that included members of the University of Louisville football team.

It was the start of a push by Jefferson County Public Schools to boost attendance throughout the district. Speakers at Friday's event stressed the importance to limiting absences to six days in a school year and set a goal that every school in JCPS have attendance rates of 96.5 percent.

JCPS Superintendent said studies have shown that missing six or more days of school can have a "significant impact" on their academics. About 19,000 students have been chronically absent, or missed at least 10 percent of the school year, so far in 2018-19, according to the district.

"We really want to first of all raise awareness for the importance of coming to school every single day and then second of all address the issues that lead to attendance problems," Pollio told reporters after the event.

"We want to do everything possible to make sure students get to school and are here every single day," he added.

JCPS is planning five or six additional surprise parties for other schools in the district this year, Communications Director Renee Murphy said. The district hopes that by not revealing the locations of such events, students throughout JCPS will be more inclined to show up to school rather than miss out on the festivities and free giveaways, which were provided by community partners, she said.

Fourth grader Bailee Simmons says she hasn't missed a single day of school so far this year and plans to keep that streak going. Getting a few freebies – all students received gift cards for Zaxby's and a free frosty from Wendy's – was a bit "like Christmas," she said.

"I want to be here to learn a lot of things that I have learn for me to get to college and high school and middle school," said Bailee, who hopes to be a teacher when she grows up.

Pollio said elementary schools typically have the highest attendance rates in JCPS while high schools count as the lowest, a trend seen in district data. Elementary schools have attendance rates of 96 percent, middle school rates dip slightly to 95 percent and high schools have the lowest rates at 92 percent.

Pollio hopes that by extending services to help get students back on track academically and boosting their sense of belonging in schools, older students will be more likely to be in the classroom than stay at home.

"We've really got to make sure that we provide really engaging and meaningful instruction to our students to make sure they're there every day," said Pollio, who was principal of Doss High School before he became superintendent.

Other aspects of the district's plan to boost attendance include providing more social and medical services, he added. Pollio has proposed hiring enough mental health counselors to cover all JCPS schools for the next budget, and the district is also working on in partnership with Norton Healthcare to provide telemedicine for three JCPS schools.

The district is also looking to build more support from the business community, something Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer pushed for during Friday's event.

"We're all in this together," Fischer said. "… I ask our business community to do something about this. Get involved with our schools. Help everybody with the Every 1 Reads program. If you've got a business and you've got a school down the street, go into the school and ask the principal, 'What can I do to help?'"

Pollio said "a prime example" of businesses partnering with JCPS – and improving engagement with older students – is through the Academies of Louisville program, which he says gives students a sense that what they're learning will help them land a job or get in college after graduation.

"That's how businesses and corporations can get directly involved," he said.

"Provide field trips, job shadows, apprenticeships, co-ops for students where they really see a relevance in their learning and a reason to come to school every day, and so the more we can promote the Academies of Louisville model with these business partnerships, the more I think it will do things like increase attendance."

For more information about the initiative, visit JCPSEveryDayCounts.com.

Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

Education Reporter