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Teacher's Tips: Step one — get students to school on time

Welcome back! I hope your summer was restful and enjoyable.

A new school year is another opportunity for every child, no matter what his or her age, to learn and mature.

It’s also another year when parents, teachers, administrators and students can work together for the good of the child.

Probably the most frequent question parents ask me at this time of year is, “What should I know at the beginning of the school year that will make the greatest difference in my kid’s performance throughout the school year?”

My answer is simple: Make sure the child is in school, on time and ready to learn.

That answer might seem obvious, but during my 13 years in the Ashland public schools I have noted a disturbing trend. Teachers at the high school, middle school and elementary schools say they see the same thing.

More and more students are chronically absent or tardy. What’s more, the absences and tardies are frequently parent-excused.

The reasons? Based on my own observations, students who are chronically tardy to class with a parental excuse are sleeping in and refusing to go school on time. Parent-excused absences for chronically missing students run the gamut, but lengthy school-year vacations and the catch-all comment, “My child just wasn’t ready to take the test/turn in the homework/make the presentation” lead the pack of excuses.

As a teacher, I completely understand the need for a student to miss class or come late because of doctor’s appointment, genuine illness, an emergency such as the death or illness of a close family member, and other common-sense reasons. In fact, at Ashland High School the student handbook (available on-line) lists what constitutes legitimate reasons for an excused absence or tardy — and what does not.

However, I have no sympathy for an unhealthy dynamic where school children and their parents sabotage the child’s education because parents don’t want to be the adult in the room.

For example, I’ve seen scores drop on high-stakes examinations such as the Advanced Placement test. For example, when I compare the roster of students who score less than a “3” (the so-called “passing score”) on the AP U.S. History exam to attendance to records about half to three-quarters of those students, depending on the year, had chronic attendance problems that were consistently excused absences for elective reasons.

Again, those students weren’t absent for kidney dialysis. They were gone because they took vacations during the school year, or they wouldn’t get out of bed, or they didn’t want to face the reality that he or she hadn’t studied for a test — and a parent essentially said “That’s OK.”

Other teachers I know say they have not only seen test scores drop, but grades as well.

Some might say, “Huard, you are kind of harsh in this article.” To quote one of my favorite movies, “That’s a bingo!”

If you do your job as a parent, this editorial is not about you. If you don’t, I am blunt because I am tired of seeing my students robbed of their education.

“But I can get better prices on hotels and airfare during the school year.” Really? Wasn’t nine weeks of summer vacation enough? Take your child out of school for lengthy school-year vacation and you harm their education.

“But education can take place outside of the classroom.” True. But I rarely find parents who have their children examine, say, the physics of wind-surfing during a vacation to Belize. It’s just a vacation to Belize, so stop making excuses.

“But my child argues with me in the morning when I try to get them up on time.” Who said parenting is easy? If you need help, the school district can recommend parenting courses and counseling resources that can help you become a more effective mom or dad. But here’s the bottom line: You. Are. The. Adult.

Just wait until your kid is in the work world. You won’t be able to hover around him or her and save the kid from absenteeism. The kid needs to be in school on time and ready to learn, and a lot of that necessity depends on you.

One of my professional mentors long ago told me, “School is about second chances.” I urge you to see this school year as another chance to change a dynamic that is detrimental to student success not only in the classroom, but in life.

Make sure your child is in school, on time and ready to learn.

Please accept my wishes for a successful and enjoyable new school year.

A former reporter who covered politics and government for newspapers in California and Oregon, Paul R. Huard teaches social studies and English courses at Ashland High School. The opinions he expresses are his own.