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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

McKeesport Community Encourages Good Attendance

Often discussing a student’s attendance is a negative conversation or one that leads to disciplinary action.

But early Wednesday morning, teachers and community members rallied around McKeesport Area School District students as they were dropped off at the front door. As school bus engines rumbled, volunteers holding welcome signs cheered, pinned stickers on students and handed them school supplies.

“I’m glad you’re here today,” and “It’s important to come to school,” the volunteers repeated to the students.

The welcoming event was the kickoff for five of the school district’s attendance challenges facilitated by United Way’s “Be There,” campaign.

Twenty Allegheny County school districts are already involved in the Be There campaign, which challenges students not to miss school for 30 days, but Shauna McMillan, Be There program director, hopes to start attendance challenges in all 43 districts.

She said missing school affects student’s ability to gain the education they deserve. It is often a problem nobody seems to catch if they aren’t looking for it, McMillan said.

“Missing about two days a month, which is about 10 percent of the year, is called chronic absence. And it’s really easy to miss two days a month. And when you do, those students are much less likely to have above average or even average reading levels, math levels. By sixth grade it’s a huge indicator if they are going to drop out by twelfth grade,” she said.

Be There’s online data shows a student with a 95 percent attendance rate has a 93 percent chance of graduating compared to 79 percent chance of graduating a student who shows up 85 percent of the time has.

The school district’s 2011-12 report card shows the district reported a 91 percent attendance rate compared to Pennsylvania’s 94 percent average. The district also reported a 55 percent graduation rate compared to the commonwealth’s 83 percent average.

Laureese Harper tracks the attendance of the almost 2,000 K-6 students who were greeted Wednesday.

Her job is to talk to parents about encouraging their children to be in school.

“If you’re not here, you can’t learn. It’s just as simple as that. And if you’re not here on a consistent basis, you’re obviously missing time and off-task. It’s very important for the kids to be here on time, every day,” Harper said.

She said it was important to have members of the community support the students at the event.

“Just to show, we do value your education. We do think it’s important for you to be there,” she said.