BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Student absenteeism is an ongoing concern for the Bloomfield school district, according to Margaret Contaldi, the director of professional development and interim director of curriculum for the school district.
The district was cited in September by Advocates for Children in New Jersey as being one of 10 Essex County school districts with 10 percent or more of its students chronically absent during the 2013-2014 school year. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, a student is chronically absent if they are not present in school for 18 or more days, regardless of whether the absence is excused or not. The advocacy group said during the 2013-2014 school year, 707 Bloomfield students were chronically absent.
“In addition to encouraging administrators to acknowledge perfect attendance and on-time arrival, professional discourse on the topic of how to make children want to come to school is ongoing,” Contaldi said in a recent email.
She said it was important for administrators to encourage their teachers to make lesson plans lively and entertaining — the thinking being, lessons should be developmentally appropriate but also engaging.
She said there were two questions administrators ask teachers.
“Would you be teaching to an empty room if your students didn’t have to be there?” she said.
Even more challenging was the second question.
“Do you have any lessons for which you could sell tickets?” she said. “The thinking is if we build a more desirable instructional program ‘they will come.’”
One effort by a Bloomfield school to decrease absenteeism, Contaldi said, is at Bloomfield High School where Praise Referrals are written by staff member for students taking a positive action.
“Very often Praise Referrals are used to recognize students who improve their attendance during the year,” she said.
Additionally at BHS, a prize is given to one student who has had perfect attendance, and no tardinesses, during the preceding month. The student is selected randomly and the prize is a gift certificate to local eatery. A second program recognizes a student with perfect attendance and no tardiness every marking period. Both the monthly and marking period recognitions were conceived by BHS student club, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and were initiated this year. It is hoped that both recognitions encourage students not to cut first-period class.
Also at the high school, there is the Characters with Character Incentive Program for students — one per grade — who are recognized each month with their photograph in the newspaper and their names displayed in the cafeteria.
“In the Bloomfield Middle School,” Contaldi said, “the administration has been very creative in finding ways to recognize adolescents through a number of programs.”
At BMS, Contaldi said the BOSS program rewards students for positive contributions to school climate with a weekly crop of winners. One student a month receives a gift card.
There are also students of the month awards, where students are chosen for academic and social achievements.
At the middle school, there is also the Mr. G Award, named for Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Goncalves.
“This award is for students who, despite average academic performance, contribute positively to school climate,” Contaldi said. The students get a free lunch at a local bagel shop. At the end of the year, there is a celebration.
Another BMS award goes to its student athlete of the month.
Contaldi said grant money totalling $1,000.00 is also expected to help encourage perfect attendance.
“Depending on the age of the child, building principals are looking for ways that are developmentally appropriate and meaningful to recognize all children for their daily dedication and hard work,” Contaldi said.