“It’s important for our students to know that someone cares about them and is happy to see them at school. It motivates students to show up.”
Last year, Martina Vitalbo and her colleagues at the Duquesne City School District launched an initiative to increase school attendance across elementary and middle school grades with United Way’s Be There school attendance initiative. As student services coordinator for the district, Vitalbo deeply understands the need to reach out to parents and students to reinforce the importance of attendance on academic success.
Vitalbo started by identifying students from kindergarten through grade 6 who were chronically absent – meaning they missed 10 percent of the school year, or two days per month. The school connected 30 students with adult mentors, the Be There Buddies, who check in with their mentees twice a day.
“We welcome our students with open arms. We inspire them to want to come to school and show them how important their success is to us,” said Vitalbo. If a student misses school, their Be There Buddy calls home to check that everything is OK. This also helps the mentor/buddy to make a connection with the student’s parent, guardian or loved one.
Children who struggled with attendance over the past one to two years made great gains this school year. Some were recognized on the lobby bulletin board’s Attendance Hall of Fame, a display of names honoring those who had perfect attendance for the first quarter of the school year. Although some did not have perfect attendance, most of the students had increased their attendance by significant numbers.
Vitalbo credits United Way for providing funding to support the attendance initiative, along with the 15 volunteers who check in with 30 students on a daily basis.
“The adult mentors didn’t realize how much they’d enjoy it,” said Vitalbo. “They really became attached to the kids. Benefits were felt on both sides.”
To get involved with Be There, visit https://uwswpa.org/be-there/.