SIKESTON -- With most area schools starting the new school year this week, officials are reminding parents, "When the bell rings, make sure your child is there -- every day."
Sikeston R-6 superintendent Steve Borgsmiller said it's pretty simple: "If you don't have your child in school, they can't learn."
New Madrid County R-1 High School principal John Garner agreed.
"Good attendance helps in every situation with the school," Garner said. Education is typically viewed as important by society, yet year after year school districts must address the issue of truancy and problem absences, noted Bill Lawson, chief juvenile officer for Scott and Mississippi counties.
Lawson compared the start of the new school year to the start of a race. Every student starts at the same spot and those who miss school end up getting further and further behind in the race, he said, adding it's a cumulative effect.
And there are children who have those resiliency traits and can catch up on missed schoolwork, Lawson pointed out. But most of the time several missed school days only has a negative effect.
"Parents are still the No. 1 influence on kids," Lawson said.
Parents should set expectations for their kids, and then most of them will rise and meet those expectations," Lawson said.
"You should tell your child before school, 'You're going to do great today,'" Lawson said. "And if he comes home and had a great day, you say, 'See. I told you.' And if he didn't have a good day, you say, 'Let's sit and talk about how to make tomorrow better.'
"It doesn't hurt to set those expectations. On the other hand, it does hurt not to have expectations," Lawson said.
Studies show after social problems like alcohol or drug abuse emerge, the one common link that is always found is truancy, Lawson said.
"The truth is most kids like school until the first time they don't feel validated," Lawson said.
Whether it's from falling behind on work or acting out in class because they don't know the answer, children need to feel a sense of worth, Lawson said. Plus kids who are successful in school are less of a problem in the classroom and less likely to be in trouble, Lawson noted.
About three years ago, Sikeston R-6 implemented a "truancy court" to reduce truancy, or educational neglect. Students who habitually miss school and identified by the school as truant or having problem attendance must attend court with their parents.
The program is a partnership between the Juvenile Court, the local school system, Missouri Division of Family Services, the county prosecuting attorney, local law enforcement officials, parents and children.
"The idea is to get kids early and over time, their attendance stays constant," Lawson said.
The vast majority of the truancy court is short-term, but what officials are seeing is a long-term result, Borgsmiller said.
"If we can get you to school and get you to school regularly, the idea is that you become a part of the school and not apart from the school," Borgsmiller said.
Incentives are also provided at schools for students such as being rewarded for
The truancy court at Sikeston has been such a success that Poplar Bluff R-1 has started a truancy court program modeled after Sikeston's, and other schools in Scott County are looking to start similar programs, Lawson said. In severe cases, parents can also get in trouble for their children not attending school.
What parents do affect their children's values, Lawson said. And it's not enough to say school's important, parents need show their children, Lawson said.
"If school's important, you've got to be there. Attend those open houses and parent-teacher conferences, too. Kids are watching. Get involved. Be there," Lawson said.
Lawson advised parents to go into the school year with the attitude that the school is on the same side as the parents and the children -- and not the enemy.
And parents should remember as the children get older, roles change.
"A number of tasks for parents go down, but the seriousness is the same," Lawson said. "... Remember you wouldn't treat an 8-year-old the same as a 15-year-old."
There are lot of social issues involved with truancy, and everyone's situation is different, Lawson acknowledged.
"There are people who have been dealt a pretty bad hand, but an education makes it a better hand," Lawson said. "It may be hard work and challenging, but it's worth it."
But in the end, it all boils down to basic parenting, Lawson said.
"It's not rocket science," he said, "but it is important for children to attend school and get an education."