Dozens of schoolchildren received ribbons from their pastor and praise from the Buffalo school superintendent Sunday morning for doing something not enough students in the city’s public schools did last month – they went to school every school day.
The Rev. Darius Pridgen, pastor at True Bethel Baptist Church and a Buffalo Common Council member, has made the recognition of children who don’t miss any school days a regular part of his Sunday church service. But this time was a little different, because Superintendent Pamela C. Brown was invited to attend the church service and be part of the recognition ceremony.
Before Pridgen asked the children to be recognized for their achievement, he invited Brown to speak. The superintendent was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation.
Brown spoke of the importance of community support for schoolchildren, and talked about the need for all students to graduate from Buffalo schools with a “world-class” education that will enable them to succeed in college and beyond.
Pridgen then invited any student in the audience who had perfect attendance in November to come forward. Some 50 young people crowded the stage to get a congratulatory ribbon from Pridgen, and some praise and advice from their superintendent.
“It’s so great to see so many of you,” Brown said. “I am so proud of you. You are role models.
“What you are doing is one of the best things you can do to be a success,” she said.
Among the youth honored for their attendance Sunday were McKinley High School student David Hulett; Devon Carter, a sixth-grader at Houghton Academy; and Chanelle Jones, a fourth-grader at D’Youville-Porter Campus School.
Chanelle and two other students – Westminster Charter School sixth-grader Blake James and Tyreese Nelson, a seventh-grader at Maryvale Middle School in Cheektowaga – also are leaders of a Sunday morning church youth group. Tyreese and Blake also had perfect attendance last month. In fact, after the awards ceremony, Tyreese, Chanelle and Blake said they usually have perfect attendance every month. At one point, the three agreed, they went to school every day because their mothers told them to. But now, they said, they go to school because they want to.
Chanelle hasn’t missed a day of school since last year.
“I want to be a teacher,” she said.
Despite the strong attendance records of the children who received awards Sunday, student attendance remains a major concern in the district. More than half the students missed 18 or more school days in 2009-10. The district in 2011-12 improved its attendance rate by 2.6 percentage points, to 89.3 percent. Brown has previously said she plans to achieve a comparable increase again this year.
Brown did not discuss any specific plans Sunday for tackling attendance, but previously has cited educating parents about the importance of their children attending school, making sure there is “high-quality instruction” in the classrooms and providing incentives and recognition for good attendance. She also has said she plans to develop a districtwide policy to address absenteeism.
She has asked the Say Yes to Education organization to fund a study to investigate the root causes of student absences.