Edwards-Knox Central School District, a community school located in New York state, saw student attendance drop off significantly during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. To encourage students to attend and participate in school during exceptionally challenging times, Jennifer Hotaling, community school site coordinator, and Amy Sykes, Edwards-Knox High School principal, thought a school-wide incentive program implemented in the month of December could help.
The two decided to find out from students what would nudge them to log on or attend in person. Principal Sykes was covering a daily student hall with the 7-12 students, and she asked students “If we ran a contest, what would make you say to yourself, I am not going to miss school that day?”
“We took a leap and we did it because we needed to,” said Hotaling. “We realized we needed to do something, and it needed to be big and it needed to be something we never did before. We need engagement fast and furious, and it needed to be fun,” she said.
Hotaling also reached out to Lura Hughes, principal of the pre-K to 6th grades. Principal Hughes wanted some time to consider whether the program would be workable, since caregivers/parents would need to be involved to help the younger students. This group eventually decided to give both the incentive and academic drawings a try.
The “Dashing Through December” spirit and instructional program was born.
It would have been challenging to make the same program workable for every age or all of the students in pre-K to 12th grades, Hotaling said. Instead, the grade level principals formed their own teams and strategies around how they wanted the program to look. For example, the spending on prizes was a little different for the high school and elementary levels.
The planning for the incentive and instruction learning program took place over a few weeks starting in early November and carrying through the Thanksgiving break. Students helped to decide on the daily spirit activities. The school attendance teams were very involved but the planning committees were open to anyone in the school. The team members reached out to everyone they could think of in the community who might possibly donate, including churches, non-profit groups, banks, the fire department, grocery stores and even Walmart.
“Our school board and superintendent were both very supportive,” Hotaling said, with the district offering funds to help with the cost of the prizes. In addition, funds in a grant for an afterschool program were allocated for student prizes, as well as funds for field trips, scheduled for fall of 2020-21, that didn’t take place. All in all, the prizes totaled a little over $5,000 for the elementary school and $5,000 for the high school, Hotaling said.
The families were slow to participate during the first week, but engagement quickly picked p steam as kids told other kids about the program and the prizes. The school had a 3% increase in attendance which has remained steady since December, Hotaling said.
Hotaling said one of her children is attending Edwards-Knox completely online. “The spirit piece of this program really brought the school environment and engagement to him at home,” she said. “He was really into it! He was planning days ahead to get ready for the spirit activities.”
Every Friday, the Edwards-Knox team also held a third drawing, with the names of every student enrolled, for a chance at winning a “Family Feast.” It didn’t matter if the students attended or participated in the spirit activities or instructional lessons or assignments to win this prize, Hotaling said. This drawing really helped the school connect with its families, and allowed educators to offer some assistance. They publicized the name of the winning family – another way to build a community comprised of families and the school.
“The daily and weekly prizes, combined with the Family Feast, gave us a really great opportunity to create some trust with our families,“ Hotaling said. “They came to see us as a resource and as a part of their community.” The school has continued to hold drawings on Fridays to choose a winning family for the feast, she added.
While Edwards-Knox Central School District’s student population is 525, all located in one building, Hotaling thinks the incentive program could be created and be successful in larger districts set in different communities. It could also be created by an individual school.
Check out our Spring Slump website page with ideas and resources, including our Sprinting through Spring calendar, to help boost attendance during the spring months.