Perfect Attendance Awards Should Not Exist
Achieving perfect attendance isn’t an equitable or desirable way to measure a child’s intelligence or educational experience.
By Mia Carella
Perfect attendance awards should not exist. There. I said it.
Since I became the parent of a child with disabilities and medical issues, I have been critical of school reward systems in general. I don’t think report cards focus on the important things in life, and it seems most school award categories are things my child will never be able to attain.
Straight A’s in classes? Maybe. I am genuinely thrilled with C’s if my child is trying her hardest, though.
Most athletic? Probably not. While my kid loves basketball and participating in gym class, her motor skill delays and visual impairment will always play a part in what she is capable of doing physically.
Best in reading, writing, or math? Not likely. But that’s fine with me. I don’t need her to be the best. Only her best.
But the most irritating, and frankly infuriating, award category for me is Perfect Attendance.
Why are we encouraging perfect attendance? What does it say about a child? That they are more intelligent or more committed to doing well than a child who needs to miss school days? That they care more? That they are able to put their health (physical and mental) second to their education?
Let’s talk about these points.
Perfect Attendance Is Impossible for Many Families
First of all, attendance at school is not always up to the child. Sometimes there are transportation issues or family emergencies that come up on a school day. Some families do not have access to a car or the availability to drive a child who missed the bus to school due to their work schedules. These are things that can’t be prevented and are at no fault of the child’s.
And what about the children with chronic medical conditions? Many children like my daughter are monitored by several medical specialists. Unfortunately routine appointments for these doctors usually occur during the school day. If you factor in the travel time necessary to get to and from these appointments, they usually result in an entire day of school missed. As much as parents would like it, specialists are most often not available during evenings or weekends. We can’t help this. Please don’t take it out on our kids.
Perfect Attendance Isn’t Healthy
Kids with chronic health conditions also often tend to get sick more frequently and more severely than students without underlying medical issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children with underlying conditions like weakened immune systems, asthma, cardiac issues, and others are at greater risk for being severely impacted by illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19.
Since my daughter began attending daycare at a year old, she has been a magnet for viruses, and they often hit her hard. We are extremely careful with preventative measures, but germs are sneaky, and my child is at-risk. It’s not fair to give one student an award over another merely because they are healthy.
Yet perfect attendance awards can encourage children to attend school while sick. This is what makes me the angriest. In a time when our country is facing a “triple threat” of increased viral infections from the flu, COVID-19, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), why would we want to give families incentive to send their sick kids to school?
Even before we were hit by the pandemic in 2020, I was begging parents to keep their sick kids home from school. Knowing what my child has experienced throughout her life with seemingly “minor” illnesses and “common colds” turning into medical emergencies, I have tried to use any platform to raise awareness. I understand that not everyone walks in my shoes and have tried to let other parents know how their decision to send a sick child to school when they have the means to keep them home can affect others. Now, in the world we are living in today, the stakes are higher than ever. Schools should not encourage this behavior by promoting perfect attendance as a goal.
And today’s youth, particularly teens, are facing a mental health crisis. Access to mental health days should be the norm and not something to avoid for fear of not getting an insignificant award for showing up when they should be taking care of themselves instead.
There Are Better Ways to Measure Success Than Perfect Attendance
Yes, attendance at school is important. Being present is obviously critical to learning. But attendance can be encouraged and rewarded in other ways. Schools should not promote this “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to attendance. This sets a standard that is unattainable by many due to no fault of their own and one that can can create unhealthy habits.
While I don’t have the answer to eliminating school attendance problems, I know giving awards for perfect attendance is not it. Instead of pushing “perfection,” we should be encouraging students to take care of themselves and others. We should be creating welcoming school environments where children feel unconditionally accepted and want to attend. We should create systems that support the whole family so that all students can get the most equitable education. We should reward traits such as empathy and kindness. We should praise genuine effort, not simply outcomes.
There are many opportunities to give our children trophies for things that matter and that are within their control. Perfect attendance isn’t one of them.
Image: MCKINSEY JORDAN / STOCKSY