Thunder Bay

Greenstone schools trying to get kids to show up for class more often

Some students in the Superior-Greenstone District School Board are having a tough time making it to school — and the Ministry of Education has the numbers to prove it.

Boards to comb through attendance data to see if they can find patterns, officials say

A scene from a recent basketball tournament at Marjorie Mills Public School in Longlac. A lot of kids miss class at the school, and nearly half are away at least two days a month. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Some students in the Superior-Greenstone District School Board are having a tough time making it to school — and the Ministry of Education has the numbers to prove it.

More than a quarter of elementary students are away from class at least two days a month — or 10 per cent of the academic year — ministry data shows.

The principal at Marjorie Mills Public School in Longlac told CBC News that students who are often absent makes it difficult for them to keep up.

"You gotta be there. That's the No. 1 thing," Chris Martin said.
Chris Martin, principal at Majorie Mills Public School in Longlac, says attendance is "the No. 1 thing. We have four school rules and our No. 1 is 'be here'." (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"We have four school rules and our No. 1 is be here. At the very least, we have to be in the chair. That's the only way we're going to be successful."

Martin says he's had some success by switching things up in an effort to bring kids back to school, such as using the outdoors as a classroom.

A trip into the bush using GPS technology, and checking out a trapline, brought out students who rarely show up to class.

"You take that student [who] struggles, maybe, in a classroom setting, and you put them in that type of environment, and they just succeed," Martin said.

"Maybe they've missed three days this week — but those are the students that need to go."

Worrisome trend going into high school

It's not just Martin's school that struggles.

The Superior-Greenstone District School Board has the second highest persistent rate of absenteeism in the province.

The Catholic board in the area ranks fourth.
David Tamblyn, director of education for the Superior-Greenstone District School Board, says travel to Thunder Bay for medical appointments and hockey tournaments keeps many kids out of school. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Superior-Greenstone District School Board director of education David Tamblyn said travel to Thunder Bay for medical appointments and hockey tournaments add up.

"These results that we got were for the elementary panel," he said.

"So, if kids are picking up in those habits where they're not attending regularly, that's going to carry on into high school."

Tamblyn said he wants to find out why students are away so much — and then find a solution to get students get back in class.

Family engagement

In the meantime, Martin said they're continuing to head outside to get students enthused about learning.

"The last couple years we've gone out and [done] some ice fishing. This year, we took the whole school out [in] two separate groups … to a local lake," he said.

Parents showed up with their snowmachines too — something that bodes well for continued parental involvement and engagement.

"[We] had a big fire on the lake, a big lunch, and got to do some fishing," Martin continued.

"Whenever you can bring parents in too, they're just a huge part of our team here, and we couldn't make it happen without them." And something needs to be done.

Simply looking at EQAO testing results from the year in which students missed 10 per cent of classes (2013-2014), they were the lowest of all the scores recorded since they started the testing — something Tamblyn says is a direct correlation to attendance.

with files from Jeff Walters

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