Students were greeted by professionals in their community at one Texas high school. (Carlesa Dixon / Lincoln High School and Communications/Humanities Magnet)
When students arrived to one Dallas high school on the first day of school last month, they were greeted by dozens of professionals from their community.
Dressed in their professional attire were judges, lawyers, doctors, bankers and FedEx delivery workers, among others. They had come together to welcome students to Lincoln High School and Communications/Humanities Magnet, says Carlesa Dixon, a health teacher and head girls basketball coach at the school, who coordinated the greeting.
“I wanted them to walk in the doors with their future on their mind,” says Dixon, who came up with the idea after viewing a similar back-to-school welcome online. From the first moment of the school year, she wanted students to think beyond class and state-mandated tests to consider what may become of their hard work.
High schools nationwide have welcomed students back to school with spirited events, like the one at Lincoln High.
It is important that educators get students to come to school because attendance matters – it affects academic achievement, standardized test scores and graduation and dropout rates.
Attendance patterns set in September are likely to continue throughout the year, says Bob Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, which is working to figure out how to get all students to finish high school.
Welcome activities are nice, he says, but the follow up to these events is what is really going to matter.
Students need to be at school continuously to learn, he says. It’s especially important when students are learning topics in a sequence, like in math or science.
If students are missing school often, soon they may miss key pockets of information and course assignments, he says. Then, a student may fail a course and not move onto the next grade. That can deplete motivation. Ultimately, a student might drop out.
“Kids basically come to school for their teachers,” he says. If there’s one teacher a student likes, he or she will come to school for that one teacher.
Motivating students, solving underlying issues, monitoring attendance and reacting to a problem when it arises is how to get students to school, he says. And one of the best motivators is to establish a caring relationship with an adult in the school, he says.
Dixon, the teacher in Texas, knows that students need encouragement throughout the school year, not just on the first day and not just from their teachers. “They get it from the teachers, but that’s our job,” she says.
Where she works, some students don’t even get encouragement at home so it is very important they have other people motivating them, like the local professionals that were there on the first day. She’s planning on bringing them back to school later this year.
“They need to get it from other people, people in the community, just knowing that people are pulling for them.”