A school attendance awareness kickoff event was held Friday at G.W. Carver Elementary School in Pinetops. September is Attendance Awareness month.

As Twin Counties schools work to improve test scores and have every student read on grade level by grade three, community partners are stepping in to help meet the goals.

One steady presence in the area committed to student success is the Down East Partnership for Children. The partnership sponsored a visit from Timely Tina, a friendly character who promotes attendance and staying at school all day, every day.

“Timely Tina arrived, right on time, at 7:30 a.m.,” said Kristin Miller, assistant principal at G.W. Carver Elementary. “She greeted students and gave out a lot of high-fives while communicating with students about how important it is to be at school on time and stay all day.”

Miller said Carver students frequently are reminded that being prepared to learn involves coming to school every day.

“We tell students — and their parents — that every minute of a school day is used for instruction and if you’re not there, you miss out,” Miller said.

Carver Elementary is trying a few new programs to promote attendance this year. One program, called “Must Be Present to Win,” announces names for random prize drawings a few times a week at different times. Students must be present to win.

Another program allows homeroom classes to compete for most days without a class absence. The winning class gets a popcorn party.

DEPC Ready School Coordinator Courtney Callinan said since the goal of the partnership is helping elementary school students succeed, being part of a program that encourages children to be at school on time every day is a key to the puzzle of increasing test scores and academic success.

“A student is deemed chronically absent when they miss 10 percent of the school year, which is about 18 days a year,” Callinan said. “We have heard from local schools that this is an issue they have to address and improve on. And we wanted to help.”

Miller said her school identified students with chronic absences last year and paired some of those students with community mentors.

“Not only did these mentors take the students under their wings, doing things like tutoring and spending time with them, the mentors also partnered with the parents,” Miller said. “And when a relationship like that is formed, then we learn if there is an obstacle to getting a student to school. And from there, hopefully, we as a community can help.”

Miller said many parents think a few late mornings or extra days taken for a long weekend don’t matter in the long run. But she pointed out that being late 15 minutes each day to school will equal eight days of absences in a year.

Both Miller and Callinan agreed that if students are in school more days for a full day, it can only lead to improved academic success.

Callinan said if other schools are interested in resources to promote attendance awareness, she could help connect them with materials. She can be reached at 252-985-4300.