The principal and teachers at Humphries Elementary School – like so many of our employees – care deeply about their students. Principal Melanie Mitchell invited me out today to help with an incredible service project for the kids. While there she showed me how she and her staff are improving daily attendance, one child at a time.
First on our agenda was the stuffing of backpacks, not with school supplies, but with food! I want to send a big thank you to our city’s Mayor, Kasim Reed, for joining other Mayors across the country and packing bags full of food for students as part of “Blessings in a Backpack Day,” a nationwide effort to combat childhood hunger. I’ve blogged previously about the epidemic of childhood hunger not only around the world, but right here in our own APS schools. I am thrilled that Principal Mitchell took the initiative to learn more about this project and give our students at Humphries a gift that keeps them healthy, strong and focused in school.
The United States Conference of Mayors passed a resolution in June 2014 declaring Thursday, September 18, 2014 “Blessings in a Backpack Day,” during which mayors across the country are encouraged to partake in backpack stuffing events with local Blessings volunteers. Today’s backpack stuffing was one of 55 events taking place across the country with mayors and city officials alike in an effort to raise awareness of childhood hunger.
Humphries Elementary is one of a few APS schools where 100 percent of its 350 students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Currently, the non-profit Blessings in a Backpack has raised enough funds to feed 150 students and we would love to be able to add more backpacks to this school when the funds become available.
The second half of my visit was all about attendance. You know how I feel about students being at school on the first day and every day during the school year. There is a proven, direct correlation between attendance and academic success and Principal Mitchell and her staff understand that connection. Each Friday at Humphries, all students who have perfect attendance for the week are allowed to participate in a 5 minute “boogie down” in the hallway with their teachers. The music plays and the building is filled with singing, dancing and laughter.
Every week a child has perfect attendance, they earn a raffle ticket. Raffle tickets are drawn throughout the year and students can earn great prizes. The grade level with the highest percentage of attendance each month wins a pizza party from the Atlanta Hawks! A “pizza meter” hangs in the school and keeps the competition going between classes.
So rewards are great and an encouragement to students, but what I found most impressive today was that the teachers and staff of Humphries have embraced the link between social/emotional wellbeing and academic achievement and now carefully track students who are in danger of having chronic absences. They make an extraordinary effort to check in on those students by calling and visiting their homes each time a student doesn’t show up to school. When they realized some students were not attending due to weather, (one-third of the students are walkers), they purchased rain ponchos to keep kids dry during their morning trek. If they see other needs that may hinder attendance, they involve the school’s social worker. Principal Mitchell says she sees a difference in her school because of the efforts. When the weather turns chilly, she will make sure they hand out gloves and hats to walkers who need them for their morning journey.
I love everything about their mission and their effort to embrace the whole child.
The kids at Humphries Elementary will leave tomorrow with a full backpack, but I left today with a full heart. What an incredible neighborhood school.