To succeed, you have to first show up

Sep 14 2023

To succeed, you have to first show up

The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves.
– Hannah Arendt

Since I came to Keystone in 2018, I have been impressed with Cobra student attendance. While students in the previous schools where I worked certainly came to school almost every day, the regular daily attendance at Keystone stands out.

I thought about this as I read a recent article on the continuing problem of students not showing up to school. According to the New York Times, “On an average day last year — the 2022-23 school year — close to 10 percent of K-12 students were not there, preliminary state data suggests. About one quarter of U.S. students qualified as chronically absent, meaning that they missed at least 10 percent of school days (or about three and a half weeks). That’s a vastly higher share than before Covid.” These numbers are both concerning and depressing in the short and long term.

While the benefits of attending school daily may seem obvious, the importance cannot be overemphasized. There are multiple reasons why students need to be present. Coming to school every day allows students to maintain continuity in their learning and not fall behind. Although children and young adults who miss a day of school can get the classwork and homework from a peer, there is nothing like being in the classroom for the lesson and discussion.

Showing up daily enables students to continue building relationships with classmates and teachers. Here again, just being present and seeing each other allows adults and children to share what is intended but it also provides for the spontaneous and happenstance to occur. We know this intuitively: when people gather regularly, they become closer with one another and the bonds among them tighten.

I recall my own experiences in school when a teacher would call roll and we would bark back ‘here!’ That makes me wonder if we were not only proclaiming our physical presence but also our mental and emotional readiness for the tasks at hand.

Like other routines in life, regular attendance is habit forming. Coming to school daily makes the act itself easier and less daunting. Likewise, absenteeism can become routine. Missing one day makes not attending the next day that much easier.

As parents, it can be tempting to allow our children to stay home. They plead, and some days, it’s just easier to give in rather than continue the argument. However, like other temptations in life, what may feel good in the moment can quickly become deleterious.

“Lisa Damour, a psychologist and the author of ‘The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, points out that parents think they are doing the right thing when they allow an anxious child to skip a day of school. She has deep empathy for these parents, she said. Doing so often makes the child feel better in the moment. But there are costs.

The most fundamental thing for adults to understand is that avoidance feeds anxiety,’ Damour told me. ‘When any of us are fearful, our instinct is to avoid. But the problem with giving in to that anxiety is that avoidance is highly reinforcing.’ The more often students skip school, the harder it becomes to get back in the habit of going.” We are fortunate that this is rarely an issue at Keystone.

Please allow me to be clear. There are good reasons to stay home. For example, if a student has a fever or diarrhea, they should not come to school until they are well. Similarly, sometimes a student may require a mental health day to recoup and properly deal with stress. These absences are sensible, and consequently, are excused.

We want children and young adults to remain at home and heal when they are unwell. All too often, Keystone students will insist on coming to school; in the process, they prevent themselves from improving and can infect classmates. Although school is important, a student cannot do well when they are ill; they need to “play the long game” and take a day off to get well rather than have their condition worsen and miss several days or more.

However, outside of extenuating circumstances, the evidence is pretty clear. Being at school surpasses staying home.

In the words of Stephen Hawking, “Half the battle is just showing up.”When students attend school daily, they come to understand that being present is the first step on the road to success as students and as people.

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