- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2016

MANCHESTER, Tenn. (AP) - An ongoing Coffee County Schools attendance program in connection with National Attendance Awareness Month is working to cut absences 1.5 percent at each school.

“That might not sound like much, but it’s a lot of missed school,” said district Family Resource Center Coordinator Taylor Rayfield.

Rayfield is helping implement the top-down part of the two-pronged approach. The district has, at the school level, implemented campus-specific, positive reinforcement programs to help students and teachers reach attendance goals. Rayfield’s part is to address barriers outside students’ control that are causing them to miss class.

“Coffee County Schools is emphasizing the importance of school attendance through various awareness programs such as attendance messaging into events, proclamations from elected officials, daily attendance tips, contests and honoring attendance champions, as well as implementing preventative intervention plans,” Rayfield said.

One major need the school system has noted is providing clean clothes for some at-risk children.

“This is definitely a barrier for some,” said Adam Clark, principal at North Coffee Elementary School.

“You have one of these little children come in here in the same jacket that they’ve had on all winter and it has never been washed,” he said.

“If you come to school three days in a row wearing the same shirt that hasn’t been washed, you’re not going to be successful in the classroom. You’re not worried about learning; you’re worried about how others are going to perceive you.”

“Folks that come in and don’t have clean clothes, I want to make sure we’re able to take care of them,” Rayfield said.

“We’re fortunate that our educators and school leaders go above and beyond. They’ll find clothes in the schools’ clothes closet . and they’re going to wash the clothes before the student leaves by the end of the day.

“That’s what we’re trying to get to within the schools. We need the community to know that this is something we’re in need of.”

Breaking barriers to students’ success in the classroom is the main drive of the Family Resource Center (FRC).

“(It) is designed to address all problems within the home and community environments that may impede, or create a barrier, to a child’s ability to learn and grow successfully,” Rayfield said.

“Unfortunately, we have students who come to school without their basic needs being met. These basic needs include adequate food, adequate shelter and adequate clothing. Students cannot thrive until these needs are met.”

Poverty, Rayfield explained, often plays a negative role in a child’s academic success and can lead to chronic absenteeism.

“Some of our students may be chronically absent because they don’t have clean clothes to wear. This lack of adequate, clean clothing creates a barrier which can negatively impact the student’s educational success. We don’t want that. Our schools and FRC are committed to eliminating all barriers, as we want every child to be successful and present in school every day.”

It is a goal of the FRC to be able to provide a washer and dryer for each school in the system.

“We must have the community’s help. I have spoken to each of our principals and they all have expressed the need for this equipment. With a washer and dryer available, school personnel could assist in eliminating barriers and ensuring that our students are thriving,” Rayfield reiterated.

“If students are coming to school daily with the same clothes on, or dirty clothes, schools can give them clothing to wear from their clothing closets while washing the student’s dirty clothes. If a clean shirt or coat can help to eliminate barriers and ensure that our students are present at school daily and thriving in their academics, then washing a shirt, pants, or a coat is worth it to us.”

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Information from: The Tullahoma News, http://www.tullahomanews.com

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