I'm here

  • Written by: Kerri McDermid
  • Photos by: John David, Kerri McDermid and Autumn Parry

Photo: Marisa Renaldi reads a letter given to her by a former student headed to high school.

Fostering attendance through student engagement is one of the most effective strategies that parents, teachers and staff can use to elevate student achievement.

Walking through the hallways of Longs Peak Middle School with sixth grade teacher, Marisa Renaldi, it is challenging to complete a sentence of conversation without someone running up to give her a hug or for Renaldi to stop a hurried student in the hall to ask them how their morning had been or about an activity they attended the day before.

Being the second-to-last day of the 2016-2017 school year, Marisa’s hands are full of letters and notes from eighth grade students who are moving on to high school, the sounds in the hallway full of the excitements that typically accompany commencements. Through the celebrations and chaos of locker cleaning, end-of-year exams and summer plans, one thing is very clear – this is a school community with teachers and staff who are deeply invested in their students’ personal and academic advancement.

For Renaldi, her success as an educator hinges on the strength of the relationships she builds with each of her students.

“Growing up, I never really connected with school as a student. It wasn’t until I got involved with kids through athletics that I realized that students often did not have a lot of outlets and things that they love. This was where I could have an impact,” said Renaldi. “They are at school eight hours a day...this should be a place that they love.”

Marisa’s – and many other educators across St. Vrain Valley Schools – commitment to advancing excellence and building connections with every child is having a large impact on student engagement, increased school attendance and performance outcomes.

“As a teacher, if I do not have a good relationship with them, I cannot be as honest as I need to be,” said Renaldi. “My number one goal always is to get close to them, learn the things they love and from there, I can break down the schooling piece.”

Longs Peak Middle School was recently named a 2017 Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch by the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education in large part because of their staff’s efforts to focus on the whole child – personal, emotional, social, academic – through fostering a school culture and environment that encourages growth, engagement and advanced academics.

“To increase engagement, students not only need to come to school but they also need to feel successful,” said Renaldi. “Through the strength of my connection to each student, I can challenge them more and build rigor into what they are doing, which ultimately leads to greater success.”

impact of high attendance

Fostering attendance through student engagement is one of the most effective things that parents, teachers and staff can do to elevate student achievement. Student attendance – more than a test score or any other data point – is one of the most accurate indicators of whether a student will graduate and find success after high school.

In the U.S. today, more than 6.5 million students are chronically absent from school. Chronic absence is defined as missing 10 percent or approximately 18 days per academic year, both excused and unexcused. Students who have regular attendance in kindergarten and first grade are far more likely to be at or above grade-level in third grade and in later grades, score much higher in essential math and reading assessments.

Studies have shown that a chronically absent middle or high school student is seven times more likely to drop out before graduation and only 11 percent of chronically absent high school students complete their second year of college (compared to 51 percent who establish good attendance habits in high school).

St. Vrain Valley Schools recognizes the importance of being present every day and in 2016, launched a comprehensive districtwide attendance campaign to increase awareness of this critical success factor, provide more support to schools for intervention and better identify students most at-risk for chronic absence or truancy.

“What we are trying to do right now is everything that we can to support our families,” said Paula Fredman, District Attendance Advocate in the Department of Student Attendance and Engagement. “What we believe is that truancy court and other legal interventions are not the best solution. We have many interventions in place to recognize students and families in need of resources or other support – before the truancy process begins – to ensure that students are in school and receiving the high-quality education they deserve.”

“They are at school eight hours a day...this should be a place that they love.”

- Marisa Renaldi, sixth grade teacher Longs Peak Middle school

Photo: Longmont High senior, Avery Peterson, (right) sitting in AP Psychology class at Longmont High and (left) as #14, a four-year varsity starter on the football team.

Building student community through involvement

Avery Peterson, a senior at Longmont High School, has built connections to his school community through involvement in athletics and other activities. A four-year varsity starter on the Longmont High football team (jersey #14), baseball player and member of the student council, Peterson sees elevated student engagement across the Longmont High community. “My favorite part of school involvement is meeting so many different people, each with their own story and background.”

Getting students involved in athletics, music, arts or other co-curricular activities has been shown to have a large impact on attendance, engagement and academic success. Involved students also create a more dynamic and supportive school culture that builds community and camaraderie across diverse student populations.

“The sports and the activities I’m involved in at Longmont High are amazing, but it is also great to see the many things that other kids accomplish through participation,” said Peterson. “For example, in last year’s school play, Cinderella, it was really fun to see how well it turned out and how much time and effort kids put into acting and the production.”

Longs Peak Middle and Longmont High are not the only school communities where student participation and engagement are at the center of every school day. Across St. Vrain Valley Schools, teachers, principals and leadership are in constant communication about how to continue serving and supporting our families and students to ensure academic and lifelong success.

“When students are connected to the school community, we know their behavior is better, their attitudes are better, their work is better,” said Renaldi. “We have to engage our kids...we just have to.”

By the Numbers: Impact of Attendance

School attendance is the number one predictor of high school graduation – more than any test score or other factor.
St. Vrain Valley Schools’ overall 2016-2017 attendance rate was 94.3 percent, compared to 92.9 percent statewide.
On average, only 11 percent of chronically absent high school students complete their second year of college.
total possible attendance days for all St. Vrain Valley students in the 2016-2017 school year.

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