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Lewiston school produces attendance PSA

Zeven Emond, 6, Yahya Osman, 8, Assistant Principal Jana Mates and Ja'Zaydah Read, 8, all of Longley Elementary School in Lewiston, will be featured in a public service announcement airing this month on several television stations as part of Attendance Awareness Month. The PSA encourages adults not to let students miss school.

View PSA video here http://youtu.be/axmS24wIkww

LEWISTON – Even second-grader Yahya Osman, 8, knows if you miss too much school, "you won't get smarter." He and three other Longley Elementary School students will appear on television this month in a public service announcement that says going to school every day is critical to a good education.

In addition to Osman, the PSA stars Zeven Emond, 6, Ja'Zaydah Read, 8, and Longley Assistant Principal Jana Mates.

The 30-second video opens with students walking into school, then a student's voice reports that last year in Lewiston 10 percent of elementary school students were chronically absent.

Appearing next is Mates.

“If we could send a message to parents, it would be that every single one of your students counts,” she says. “And every single day that they're here counts.”

The three Longley students, speaking one at a time, look into the camera and say, “Attendance matters and I matter!”

The video closes with a group of students saying, “Attendance matters and we matter!”

Then, a school bell rings to the words, "See you in school!”

The ad was created in Lewiston with help from students, administrators, volunteers and organizations such as The Root Cellar.

Speaking from his school library, first-grader Zeven said he really wanted to say “attendance matters” in the video. Coming to school every day is important, he said, “Because what if there was something special to do? If you stayed home, you can't do it!”

Osman said attending school every day is how "you turn smarter," how students learn to read and do math. Students who miss school fall behind. “They don't get smarter,” he said.

September is Attendance Awareness Month, a nationally-recognized program promoted by Attendance Works, a national organization working to fight chronic absenteeism.

Lewiston has too much chronic absenteeism, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school, about 18 days out of the 175-day school year. Chronic absenteeism is not the same thing as truancy. Being truant is being absent without being excused. When a student is chronically absent, it means not showing up for school excused or not excused.

If a school focuses only on truancy, which many schools have done, too much of the problem is missed, Webster said. Lewiston's 10 percent rate is higher than other districts, he said.

Webster said that too often schools are criticized for low test scores “when at least some of the issue is students who aren't in attendance. To some families, school attendance is not a high enough priority."

Studies show that chronically-absent elementary students are much more likely to become high school dropouts and not have success with work in their adult lives.

“The whole work around chronic absenteeism is identifying students at risk much earlier," Webster said. “It's more of a community issue.” The schools alone can't ensure that students come to school. Parents and community members need to get involved.

Counting how many students are chronically absent is a new measure, Webster said. Lewiston schools began keeping track 18 months ago.

The locally-produced PSA is a small piece to address the problem, he said. “Our hope is all the TV stations pick it up and run it.”

So far, five television stations have agreed to run the PSA, said Sarah Davis, director of Lewiston schools Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Those stations are WMTW, WGME, WPFO, WCSH and Great Falls TV.

The PSA video has also been shared by many Facebook and Twitter users.

“Social medial is increasingly powerful,” Webster said. “Anything to increase the awareness that attendance is critical is helpful."

BONNIE WASHUK, Staff Writer  bwashuk@sunjournal.com