This post first appeared one year ago in my old Principal and Interest Blog. I still smile when I read it and think back to high school. Plus, I think the message to principals is an important one.
It was the end of May, 1980. It was our senior year of high school. It was a day that will live in infamy (well not really) but it was a day that I will always remember. On that memorable day in May, my best buddy, Ed, threw up all over the boys’ bathroom – and he did it more than once. More about that later in this post, however.
This week, we are ending another school year, and the time has come for most schools to hold their annual Recognition Assemblies (aka Awards Assemblies). This is the time when the entire school gathers in a stifling hot gym to celebrate the accomplishments of many, if not all, of the students over the course of the concluding school year. This is no different at my school. Tomorrow, we will assemble in our gym as I preside over the presentation of the award certificates for activities such as student council, instrumental music, 5th grade helpers, first grade readers (all of them get this!), Library helpers, art fair committee, and so on.
I have always liked these yearly assemblies. They signal the passing of the torch from one grade to another. We end with the entire school applauding the out-going fifth graders as they march out of the gym, and then we recognize the fourth graders as the new leaders of the school. This is a goose-bump raising moment for everyone, and the third graders will be chomping at the bit for their turn one year from now.
There is one award, however, that I refuse to recognize. That is the “Perfect Attendance Award.” It sounds like a great way to encourage children to come to school, right? It presumes that those students who attend school every day will learn more than those students who miss a few days throughout the year. It makes all children want to come to school regardless of the teacher, the principal, the curriculum and instruction, the lunch menu, or the bus ride. Well, I must disagree.
Today, I watched my daughter “graduate” from fifth grade. As part of the official commencement ceremony, the principal used this opportunity to hand out some awards. As I watched students stand and be honored for their outstanding academics and citizenship, for their musicianship, and for their athletic prowess, I had a sinking feeling that the big one was coming. Then, with minutes to go, she did it. The principal announced how proud she was of a select group of students who have not missed a day of school in the last year and in the last two years. She even went so far as to praise them for coming to school when they were not feeling well.
Well that explains it. That’s why my daughter missed four days of school this year. She got sick because she was exposed to the germs brought to school by the “perfect attendees.” Why? Because the principal and the staff encouraged kids to come to school sick. By handing out perfect attendance awards at the end of each school year, that is exactly what they are doing. Then another thought struck me. What about the poor child whose grandma died back in February? He missed a couple days of school. He did not receive the perfect attendance award. I wonder how he felt when the PAs stood up to be recognized in front of the whole school, and he did not.
This brings me back to my buddy, Ed (yes, that is his real name.). Ed NEVER missed a day of high school. Throughout all four years, no matter what, Ed made it to school. So when he started feeling a little bit queasy on that fateful day in May, there was no way he was going to be absent. He went to school that day. He threw up at least five times in the bathroom (thanks for making it to the bathroom, Ed!). But Ed did not go home that day, and Ed did receive his perfect attendance award. Of course, he infected 15 other students who missed school that week, but I am sure the award is still proudly hanging in his house somewhere.
The morale of the story: Principals, please eliminate the Perfect Attendance Award in your schools. Don’t encourage your students to come to school sick, and don’t punish those who miss school for sad and unfortunate reasons. Plus, your custodians will thank you for it.