Taking their places in a room full of miniature size seats, the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes of Westside Elementary School filed in one behind the other.

What could they be here for?

“Is it Halloween today?” asked one guest. “Not yet,” answered another.

Unbeknownst to them, the bright lights, the photographers, and the news stations were all present for one thing- to recognize the youngest members of Westside Elementary School and their achievements in attendance.

In recognition for their efforts, free tickets to Port Discovery Children’s Museum for the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes were given to the school.

A room full of city and community dignitaries were on hand to present kindergartners with their prize, including Dr. Andre Alonso, superintendant of Baltimore City Public Schools, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who opened and closed the ceremony.

“Westside Elementary is setting a great example,” Rawlings-Blake told the AFRO.

“What you see here is a bunch of kids who are excited about school, teachers who are excited about teaching, and parents who are committed to making sure their kids reach their full potential.”

The mayor said that the new initiatives to improve attendance are creating visible change today- not five or ten years down the line.

“We’re looking for instant results,” said Rawlings-Blake, “We’re looking for ways we can activate students and their families to have a dramatic increase this year.”

Locally, the statistics are startling. Information from the Office of the Mayor shows that 25 percent of all kindergarten students enrolled in Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) miss an average of one month of class time each school year.
That number is much higher than the national average of one in ten kindergarteners chronically absent.

Reports from BCPS show that attendance directly affects test performance in the classroom. Last year, only 56.2 percent of students with more than 20 absences were able to reach the proficient or advanced mark on the reading portion of the Maryland State Assessments (MSAs). That percentage jumped to 71.4 percent when students missed less than 20 days school.

The same pattern could be seen on the math portion, with only 42.4 percent of children missing more than 20 days scoring in the proficient or advanced categories.

Though these introductory classes may seem insignificant, these absences can add up and have a dramatic effect on the academic performance and attendance habits of pupils in later years.

Cable giant Comcast also awarded the school a $1,000 grant, which Principle Brian Pluim, said will go directly to supplying the mandatory uniforms needed for each student.

“We don’t want uniforms to be the reason students miss school, and we want to give the support they need to get their children to school, every day- no matter what,” he said.

The contest was part of the Mayor’s Attendance Campaign, which lasted from Aug. 27 to Sept. 27 and included pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes.

Westside Elementary School claimed the winning title after this year’s attendance record was compared to the results of last year during the same five-week period.

“Making sure every student is in school every day is absolutely essential, and it is something we all have a role in helping make happen,” said Alonso.

The competition will begin again this month as students around the city pull together with their eyes set on the goal of perfect attendance.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer