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School Attendance Efforts Coming Into Focus
With the goal of getting as many kids to school as many days of the school year as possible, local officials are upping the ante and finding some new incentives to encourage attendance.

"For each day a student misses, it takes them two days to catch up," noted Dent Elementary Principal Kendra Helsley.

It's also not as easy as just getting the homework assignment to keep up, she said, as so much more of learning today is based on classroom activities and hands on learning.

"We were the attendance champions last year," Helsley added.

Dent recorded 98.15 percent attendance for the first period of the current school year, while the district average was 97.68.

Both figures are good, agreed District Superintendent Ron Costa, and he said the incentive idea works well for all grades, especially at the lower levels, when it's important to start good attendance and homework habits.

Helsley said Dent staffer Debbie Teixeira went out last year and obtained several items from community merchants to reward Dent students and this year, expanded it to seek items for schools districtwide.

"We have had very good response," Teixeira explained. "I went to all the businesses in Escalon, took a day and went to some in Riverbank and even into Modesto."

She said when merchants and businesspeople learn the incentives are designed to help keep kids in school, they want to support the effort.

"We're always getting little coupons and prizes," Helsley said. "Debbie took it on for the whole district and has gone out on behalf of all our schools."

A special feature at Dent Elementary, courtesy of one teacher's association with a bicycle group, will be a year-end perfect attendance drawing for two bicycles, one for a boy and one for a girl. Each month that a Dent student achieves perfect attendance, they get a ticket and turn it in for the year-end drawing.

"Mr. Gregory, one of our teachers, is part of a cycling club and a former Dent dad, also in the club, donated the two bikes," Helsley said.

Other incentives such as gift cards to businesses including Target, Toys R Us and coupons for food and other items are awarded throughout the year.

Helsley said even high school students can get something, with four rounds of golf donated by Escalon Golf and a pair of lift tickets to Sugar Bowl among the incentives to be given away.

Helsley said having that extra incentive might mean a child comes to school rather than stay home.

"Obviously if a child is sick, they should stay home but if they are well they need to be here," she said. "The way we teach now, so much of your learning is interactive with teachers and peers, it's not the same if you just do the homework at home."

Parents are also asked to schedule family trips around school vacation time and avoid taking students out of school whenever possible.

"If kids are here, they can learn," she said. "We are really working to keep attendance at the forefront."