At Monday's Western School Division (WSD) Board meeting, WSD Assistant Superintendent Marianne Fenn spoke on the Chronic Absenteeism Report and put it in context of the division.      

She said the province believes and WSD agrees on this... 

"We want students to have regular attendance at school and we know students who have regular attendance at school are able to be more engaged with their learning, are able to access school and know how to access community resources on into adulthood. They have a greater sense of belonging and we know it helps them to reach their fullest potential." 

WSD Assistant Superintendent Marianne FennWSD Assistant Superintendent Marianne Fenn

She explained why monitoring this number is important.   

"Recognizing which students are at risk of not being able to do those things early, by recognizing those attendance patterns that flag and suggest there's a concern or an issue is one of the ways we can apply some intervention early, to try to adjust and make changes to that."   

She reported 5 out of close to 1600 students from Minnewasta School, Maple Leaf Elementary and École Morden Middle School (K-8 schools) fall into the unexcused for more than twenty days category. There are 26 students at Morden Collegiate Institute out of 723, who have twenty unexcused absences in one class or more.  

While numbers in Western are low, Fenn said the division is committed to helping remove barriers to attendance for each student through Home School Liaison Workers who provide support such as identifying the barrier, which could be language, a lack of understanding of systems like bussing in the division, providing alarm clocks or rides for students to school. Others are the Teen Learning Centre and the breakfast program.  

"Absenteeism, for whatever reason it occurs, can have long lasting negative effects on student achievement. It can have impacts on eventual graduation rates for kids or their ability to transition into post-secondary education or employment, or just feeling socially included as members of the community. Of course, our goals for all our students are to make sure that they have access to all those things. So, for us it means we have work to do, which is to continue to work to kind of capture those kids' interest in school, engage them with what's going on in schools, and to work with their families to try to support improved attendance." 

She added, a lot of time there are circumstances beyond the students' control contributing to the pattern of unexcused absences.  

"We're not just looking at kids who are unmotivated, more often than not, the pattern is that we have entire families who are experiencing some sort of trauma, or crisis, or concern, or problem they need support and help with. And so, for us, it means engaging all those resources to wrap around each family in each student's situation uniquely to figure out what is a barrier to students being able to attend, and excel, and succeed at school? And let's work out a solution to that. I think that's one thing Western School Division schools do a phenomenal job of."  

Fenn noted, because the number is so low, these students are known and matter to those in each school.  

"I phoned the other day to ask, 'There's about four kids (on the list) I don't recognize on this high school list. Can you tell me a little bit about them?' And the first person who answered the phone, was able to give me the entire story on every one of those kids, one after the other because they just do a really great job of knowing who's who, what's what, and what help they need. So, we're constantly proud of the work our schools are doing to make sure all of our kids feel really supported, that they're known and that they know they're welcome."