Practice Makes Perfect

School attendance critical component to academic achievement

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

Achievement is talent plus preparation. According to best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, the bigger role goes to preparation. Gladwell refers to it as the 10,000-Hour Rule, reflecting the time of deliberate practice it takes to become an expert in a certain field, such as sports or music.

Gladwell believes that there is such a thing as innate talent, but true expertise comes from intentionally spending time perfecting your craft. He stated in his book, “Excellence at a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice.”

This same concept applies to building foundational skills in school. Elementary school attendance has been a requirement for all American children for over a century, but for students who attend sporadically, the development of those foundational skills may suffer. Early data shows that chronic absence – missing more than 10% of the work covered in class – puts children in academic danger. Missing just two days a month can add up to missing 10% of the school year. Attending school regularly is essential for students to gain the academic and social skills they need to succeed. Chronic absenteeism leaves third graders unable to read proficiently, sixth graders struggling with coursework, and high school students off track for graduation.

Raising awareness is such a crucial step to improving attendance for families in our community that the month of September is set aside for Attendance Awareness. We know that there’s no such thing as perfect, especially when it comes to attendance. After all, children may need to miss school for a number of reasons, including illness. But we can encourage our students and families to keep absences to a minimum in order to help ensure academic success.

One way to promote the importance of regular school attendance is through the annual Attendance Awareness Month poster contest. All public elementary schools in Charlotte County are encouraged to participate, and prizes will be awarded to selected artists. Posters are created by students about the importance of outstanding attendance on a template provided by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, supported by The Patterson Foundation. It always warms my heart to see how students use art to depict the importance of being at school every time the doors are open.

Some tips for parents and caregivers, used with permission from Attendance Works, include the following:

  • Set a regular bedtime and morning routine.
  • Lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before.
  • Keep your child healthy and make sure your child has the required shots.
  • Introduce your children to their teachers and classmates before school starts.
  • Develop backup plans for getting to school if something comes up. Call on a family member, a neighbor or another parent.
  • Try to schedule non-Covid-19 related medical appointments and extended trips when school isn't in session.
  • If your child seems anxious about going to school, talk to teachers, school counselors and other parents for advice on how to make your child feel comfortable and excited about learning.
  • If you are concerned that your child may have COVID-19, call your school for advice.
  • If your child must stay home due to illness or quarantine, ask the teacher for resources and ideas to continue learning at home.

Regardless if the absence is considered excused or unexcused by the school, absenteeism is a lost opportunity to learn. As Malcolm Gladwell has sufficed, achievement leans heavily on preparation, which can only happen when our children are present and engaged at school. To learn more about United Way of Charlotte County’s efforts to promote educational success, with a focus on third grade reading proficiency, visit

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at