BAR HARBOR — Thirty-one percent of the students at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor missed 15 or more days of school last year.
At Tremont Consolidated School, 26 percent of students had at least that many absences.
Those are the kinds of numbers that school officials find troubling.
Howard Colter, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, told the school system board last week about a recent National Public Radio report on studies showing that students with poor attendance records, particularly in the early grades, are much more likely to drop out of school eventually.
“If you’re missing a lot of school … there’s a great risk you’re not learning the fundamentals of reading, writing and math,” he said. “And pretty soon, you’re really struggling to catch up, and some kids aren’t going to catch up.”
Colter said poor attendance is cause for concern in all grades, not just the early ones.
“In speaking with the high school administration, they feel this is a very serious issue in high school as well.”
He said there are a number of reasons why some students miss a lot more days of school than others. He said some children have chronic illnesses and some struggle with depression or anxiety. And there are some families that are able to take vacation only during the school year.
“Nonetheless, it is really hard for teachers to do their best work when a student is not in the classroom,” Colter said.
He suggested it might be wise for the school system to hire what he called “outreach workers” to help address chronic absenteeism. He said they could “go to the child’s house and work with the child, work with the parents, work with the mental health and drug addiction professionals … to get these children in our schools so that they are getting the academic help and other help to keep them in school.”
School board member John Brown suggested that as long as students are meeting proficiency standards, perhaps absenteeism isn’t such a big problem.
Colter disagreed, saying, “If students who are meeting standards are absent, the other students are missing their input and exchange and debates and conversations and project work. Part of the beauty of having kids around is that they are all helping each other.”
Colter distributed a chart showing the number and percentage of students in each of the system’s nine schools who missed 15 or more days last year. It was 16 percent at Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor and Trenton Elementary, 19 percent at Mount Desert Elementary and 23 percent at MDI High School.
Only one of the 18 students at Ashley Bryan School on Islesford missed at least 15 days last year. Ten of the 34 students on Swans Island were absent that much, as were both students on Frenchboro.
So far this school year, Sept. 1 through Nov. 12, 11 percent of students system-wide have missed at least five days of school. The high school and Tremont have the highest rate, 15 percent, followed by Trenton and Swans Island at 13 percent, Pemetic at 12 percent and Conners Emerson at 6 percent. None of the students at Ashley Bryan or Frenchboro have missed five or more days.