March 22, 2024

Innovative Motivators: Fresh & Fun Ways to Incentivize & Celebrate Good Attendance

In the face of unprecedented absenteeism, educators across the country are trying out all kinds of campaigns, competitions, and committees to motivate their students and families to attend school more regularly. Some work better than others, and some even work much better than expected! Backing away from “Perfect Attendance” awards, many educators are thinking differently to both motivate students to reach their full potential and not get discouraged in the face of inevitable bumps in the road. We recently spoke with our friends at Berkeley Unified School District and Semitropic Elementary School, and they shared some fun and effective attendance incentives that you might want to try at your district!

March Madness: Attendance Edition

Dr. Phillip Shelley, Director or Student Services at Berkeley Unified School District has his own festive way to tackle the Spring Slide: March Madness, attendance edition! With friendly competitions at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, students are motivated throughout March to keep their attendance high. The 11 elementary schools and 3 middle schools compete week by week and are ranked at the end of the month based on performance. The high school has a true bracket style, with 6 academy groups & the continuation school competing against each other. What’s at stake? Big trophies for the top two schools and celebratory photos to commemorate the achievement. 

Keeping the competition moving is easy when the most updated school-level attendance data is right at your fingertips. That’s why Berkeley leverages the EveryDay Labs dashboard to quickly pull the attendance rates, updated nightly. 

EveryDay Pro provides clear attendance insights at the district, school, and student levels.

Realistic Goals, Magical Results

Priscilla Espinoza, School Clerk at Semitropic Elementary School, was thoroughly impressed by the power of setting achievable goals this year. Instead of encouraging every student to have perfect attendance, she logged into EveryDay Pro and created individualized student goals based on their attendance from the past two years. She hypothesized that pushing students who were doing ok to do even better, and nudging students who were struggling to improve as much as was realistic for them, would be a more motivating way to turn attendance around. 

Over the next 140 days, each student was asked to not exceed a certain amount of absences. If they met their unique goal, they got to join the big excursion to Magic Mountain at the end of the year. 

At the beginning of the school year, she communicated these goals in a letter home to families, emphasizing that these were individualized, achievable goals that were designed just for them. This was also the perfect opportunity to remind families of the importance of getting healthy routines in place, like waking up early and washing hands, getting even the youngest students on track early with good health & attendance habits.  

Outside of her office, Priscilla created a big attendance wall where every student’s goal was posted. It only encouraged the excitement around achieving the Magic Mountain goals as families came in on Open House nights and saw whether or not their students were on track. 

How did it go? 83% of students met their goal! In fact, no one was expecting the challenge to go so well, but the healthy levels of peer pressure (students constantly nudged each other to keep their attendance up so that they wouldn't miss out on the trip) paired with a realistic goal was the perfect motivation cocktail. 

This challenge also improved truancy rates, as more families understood the importance of reaching out and communicating, calling in to excuse the absence instead of letting it sit unexcused and risking a brush with the legal system… or missing out on a trip to Magic Mountain. 

Apparel Driving Action & Attendance

Attendance is not just a hot topic in March over at Berkeley. In fact, “Attendance Matters” is emblazoned on hoodies given out to students districtwide as they improve attendance throughout the year. 

In May, the district will be launching a t-shirt design competition centered around improving attendance. The winning student submission will be declared in August, with t-shirts given out to all students during Attendance Awareness Month in September. 

At Semitropic, Priscilla had a committee of five 8th grade girls (with varying attendance habits) take the lead in encouraging positive attendance habits among their peers through “Dress Up Days”. If students didn’t miss any school throughout the month, they get a ticket to forget their uniform and wear something they chose to celebrate their stellar attendance. 

A Data-Informed, MTSS Approach

Having access to the right data at the right time helps these innovative educators deliver the support and campaigns that motivate their communities. Dr. Shelley takes a tiered approach to improving attendance, with special attention to strong Tier I supports to get ahead of future challenges. This may include building a culture of attendance across the school community, nurturing a positive school climate,  and leveraging the EveryDay Labs platform to deliver targeted interventions before students become chronically absent. 

Priscilla Espinoza loves using EveryDay Pro not just to support her own work and share key information with her school board, but also to communicate attendance numbers directly to students. The clear, color-coded calendar illustrating attendance in real time makes it easy to show students which days they missed and grounds discussions around what they need to work on.  

“EveryDay Labs is the easiest way to show my kids, in a color-coordinated way… they have more of an attention span to it. I would click on the little sidebar and show them this is all you, this is what we need to work on” - Priscilla Espinoza

These innovative educators prove that there is no single way to motivate students and improve attendance. Providing the right mix of encouragement and celebration to help students and families achieve their full potential requires building trust and meaningful relationships alongside experimenting with initiatives that ignite the fire for change.

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.