Philly schools looking for an #AttendanceHero

Parent Eva Sanchez talks about her strategies for getting her kids up and out to school every morning. Sanchez is a participant in the #AttendanceHero social media campaign to improve attendance at Philadelphia schools.

Parent Eva Sanchez talks about her strategies for getting her kids up and out to school every morning. Sanchez is a participant in the #AttendanceHero social media campaign to improve attendance at Philadelphia schools. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In Eva Sanchez’s house, the best remedy for the morning rush is a plan.

Sanchez lays out her son’s clothes and lunch the night before and stations his backpack by the door. When the temperature drops, she sets both of their alarm clocks 15 minutes early to account for the sluggishness that accompanies winter weather.

“So when we leave, we’re all ready,” she said. “We’re not going through the whole motions of, ‘Where’s my stuff?’”

Sanchez, whose third-grader attends Alexander McClure School in the Hunting Park section of North Philadelphia, developed her strategy over years of struggle with her older daughter.

“With her it was more of a push and shove. ‘Let’s go, let’s go, we’re running late,’” she said. “By the time my son came, we had the routine down pat.”

As the depths of winter descend and students return from the winter holidays, the School District of Philadelphia is encouraging parents like Sanchez to share their morning protocols on social media through the #AttendanceHero initiative.

Run jointly with iHeartMedia and the citywide Read by 4th campaign, the district hopes the campaign and accompanying radio spots will cut down on truancy in an especially challenging time of the year.

“We know the winter months can make school attendance tough for families,” said Superintendent William Hite. “But when students miss school, they also miss out on the potential to become confident, engaged learners.”

Those who use the #AttendanceHero and #ContestEntry hashtags will be eligible to win $500 and a pair of Power 99 concert tickets.

This latest campaign is part of a larger district strategy to boost attendance, which officials consider critical to their early literacy focus.

The district has partnered with public policy researchers at Harvard to send out postcards to parents that explain the importance of attendance and show them how often their child attends. Officials have also used robocalls to get caregivers’ attention.

The efforts showed initial promise. The percent of students attending school 95 percent of the time or more rose from 38 percent in 2013-14 to 39 percent in 2014-15 to 42 percent in 2015-16.

That number slipped back down to 38 percent in 2016-17, although a SEPTA strike did depress attendance early in the year.

District officials said early attendance numbers suggested a rebound in 2017-18, but could not provide data.

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