By Kelly Duffield, School Psychologist,

Clay County Schools
Clay County is a small district in West Virginia with one high school. Clay County is one of 13 West Virginia counties that has been receiving intensive technical assistance from the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities since 2011. In order to increase attendance at the high school in Clay County, the school’s Link UP advisory program was expanded so that advisors could meet with students on a daily, rather than a monthly, basis. Advisors have caseloads of 10-15 students whom they meet with four days a week, for 20 minutes a day. Advisors for students with disabilities are special education teachers. The advisory program utilizes the West Virginia Department of Education’s LINKS (Learning Individualized Needs Knowledge and Skills) curriculum, which involves lessons that enhance academic, career, and personal-social development. The name “Link UP” was adopted to signify the linking of each student with a caring adult who would remain with that student for the duration of high school.
According to the Center for Mental Health at Schools at UCLA, attendance should be addressed through proactive interventions. This means it is important to attend to situations associated with increased absences, such as the transition between middle and high school, before they become problems for students. In order to create a smooth transition for students in Clay County, the high school holds a Freshman Orientation Day at which 8th grade students meet their future advisors and get a tour of the school while in their Link Up groups. They are also introduced to different teachers who talk to them about the various courses, and explain the various career clusters, academic clubs, sports, and additional extracurricular activities offered at the high school. In this way, familiarity with the people and culture of the high school is established before students make the transition to their freshman year.
Another change that typically accompanies students’ transition to high school is a decrease in the level of parental involvement. Increasing parents’ involvement in school has been associated with students’ improved attendance and academic performance (Adams & Christenson, 2000). In order to increase parental involvement, Clay County High School holds informational town hall meetings at the high school on the topics of dropout prevention, drug awareness, and school safety procedures. Speakers who are experts in the field are invited to speak and participate in panel discussions. In order to encourage parent attendance, meetings are held on the same night as Parent Teacher Conferences and parents are offered incentives for attending. At the most recent meeting, a free family portrait was offered as an incentive. It is important to make sure that parents understand that their participation in school events is welcome and expected. Extending invitations and offering incentives for participating can be effective motivators for parents who rarely attend school events.
Through a partnership between the Clay County Board of Education and the Clay County Bank, free tickets for Friday night football games are donated for students with perfect attendance. Students who attend school every day for the week are given a free ticket to the Friday night game. As a result of these proactive measures to increase high school attendance, Clay County now has the second highest attendance rate in West Virginia!
References: Adams, K. S., & Christenson, S. L. (2000). Trust and the family-school relationship examination of parent-teacher differences in elementary and secondary grades. Journal of School Psychology, 38(5), 477-497.