Sunday, February 03, 2013

Showing Up

This is Mr. Weber's assembly address to students on February 4, 2013.

Recently, I’ve heard a number of your teachers express concern about your absenteeism. Some of you are missing too much school, and teachers tell me it’s hurting your grades.

Before I get into this, let’s make some distinctions about absences: some absences are school related—two Fridays ago, for example, we had about 60 kids absent for March for Life in Washington, D.C. and other 20-25 that were out for the regional swim meet. Some absences are legitimate absences caused by long-term illnesses, such as mono or the flu or short-term health issues, such as migraines. But there’s a third layer of absences that boil down to “I was feeling a little under the weather,” or  “I was really tired and decided to sleep in, “ or “I decided to take a mental health day.”  I‘d like to challenge those of you who might, from time to time, find yourself in this third category.

Do absences really affect grades, or is that just something teachers say?  Let's look at some statistics off Veracross: 

The average grade at this moment at JPII, about one month into the third quarter, is an 85. That’s pretty good: a solid B.

I then pulled the ten of you who have missed the most school this month. Your average is a 73, or twelve points below the school average. That’s a very significant difference.

To understand how significant, I decided to compare that average with the effect that God-given ability might have on your grades.   Since all seniors have taken the ACT test by now, I took the ten seniors who had the lowest composite scores and looked at their GPA compared with the rest of the school, and it was a 79, or C+. 

A twelve percentage point difference for those who miss school often, but only a six percentage point difference for those with lesser ability. On the basis of those statistics, coming to school is apparently twice as important as natural ability. Perhaps this is what Woody Allen meant when he said “70% of life is just showing up.”

While I’m on the subject, let me remind you of our school policy about absenteeism. The state of Tennessee has laws against truancy that all schools, public or private, are compelled to enforce. Our way of doing it is to say you can’t miss more than 35 hours in a semester, excused or unexcused. And we break that up a little further: If you miss more than 2.5 days in a quarter, you’re on pace to exceed the 35 hours and we make you come in for Saturday school to make up for missed time.

Some times there’s confusion as to whether an excused absence or a doctor’s note “exempts” a person from the 35 hour rule. No, it doesn’t.  Both excused and unexcused absences count toward the 35 hours; the difference is whether or not you’re able to make up the work missed, or if the work or tests you take are marked as zeroes.

But aside from truancy laws, the reality is that showing up matters. I suspect you know this already. Getting good grades at JPII is hard enough when you are coming to school every day; it’s much harder when you’re trying to catch up with work that is late and when you’re trying to understand something in class that everyone else seems to understand because they didn’t miss the class before.

If you’re feeling a little under the weather, then, or tired, or a little sick, if you’re not truly sick or truly contagious, come to school any way. In the short run, yeah, it’s tough—much easier to roll over in bed and sleep through the day. But in the long run, you’ll be healthier, happier and end up with much better grades. 

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