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Murray Journal

Liberty students score at being at school during March Madness tournament

May 07, 2024 03:11PM ● By Julie Slama

Liberty students celebrated their March Madness victory with a dance party and by eating doughnuts, as seen here with fifth-graders Eloise Hall and Mylee Nielsen. (Teresa Loveless/Liberty Elementary) 

March Madness. It wasn’t just celebrating University of Connecticut’s men’s team or the South Carolina women ballers or jumping on the bandwagon of Caitlin

Clark fans.

Murray School District had its own competition, where Liberty Elementary edged out Viewmont Elementary in the last week to win the elementary schools’ attendance tournament.

“Our students and families rallied together and won the March Madness Attendance Champion award and the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) award for the most improved attendance during the month of March,” Liberty Principal Shana Mondragon said. “This was an award the students earned. They had to get here every day on time. It’s not an award that the teachers won for the school; it was all their doing.”

It’s the first time Murray School District has held the four-week competition to see which school earned the best attendance percentage of improvement from the previous month, said Darren Dean, Murray District personnel and student services director.

Liberty increased its attendance every week in March as well as its overall attendance from February.

In February, the 225 students had 90.44% attending school. The first week of the contest, it increased to 91.95%; week two, 92.22%. The third week, 92.73% of the Liberty Leopards were at school.

Similarly, Viewmont increased every week from 92.67% in February to 94.89% the third week.

Mondragon said students were already planning a dance party if they won, however, she upped the incentive with doughnuts if they could increase the percentage that
final week.

“When Viewmont pulled ahead by 1/100th of a percentage the last day before spring break, I promised our students that I would get them all doughnuts if every kid came to school because we could still win,” Mondragon said. “The kids were laughing because they know doughnuts and bananas are my favorite treats, and I had been telling them all year I needed a reason to buy doughnuts for everybody.”

Liberty students committed to coming to school. With a 92.88% attendance rate the fourth week and a 2.44% change from the previous month, they won both awards. Viewmont was second with a 2.16% increase in attendance.

On April 8, Dean and attendance specialists Brittany Roller and Adrianne Miller came to present the students their trophies before the students danced to a playlist created with student and teacher suggestions.

“Our District and the school board prioritized attendance at the start of the year, and we were working with the State Board of Education to improve our attendance,” Dean said. “We’ve been generating ideas to incentivize students in addition to having traditional meetings with parents and students. This was one of those ideas that Brittany and Adrianne had.”

Currently, there are elementary attendance poster and secondary schools’ video contests being held.

Every elementary student is invited to submit a 8-inch by 11-inch poster that highlights the importance of daily school attendance by May 15 to the child’s school’s office. Each entry needs to include “We are Here!” Three school winners will be chosen to have their posters displayed in the school and they also will have a chance to compete at the district level for prizes and to display the poster districtwide next school year.

The one-minute promotional video contest also needs to highlight the importance of attendance and include “We are Here!” Students need to submit their video at by May 15. Three winners will have their videos used in 2024-25 attendance campaigns as well as win prizes.

With the recent push in attendance, Dean believes that Murray District will be “close to on track or maybe above where we were last year. We have a long-range timeline to improve attendance. School attendance is down across the nation. Chronic absenteeism was 15% before the pandemic. Now it is 25% across the nation.”

Chronic absenteeism is when a student misses 18 days or more of the school year.

Mondragon said that attendance can be overlooked.

“Sometimes, it may be easier to grab the elementary student when a parent is going to high school activities, or there’s an opening for a dentist appointment and it fits into the parent’s schedule,” she acknowledged. “From the education standpoint, we know how critical it is for kids to be here every day. It’s hard to keep them on track when they’re not here every day. I understand it can be hard from both standpoints; we all want the same thing but getting it done is difficult sometimes.”

Dean agrees.

“People got used to staying at home and now there’s parents working at home so it’s harder for students to get to school or people go on vacation and miss school. Sometimes, there are sports tournaments on a Friday. Attendance has just fallen off,” he said. “We’re reaching out to those families. We want them to know that we’re here to support you and help you solve the issues. We’ve had some workshops with multiple parents and kids where we look at the root of the problem and see how we can partner to solve it. It’s been eye-opening to hear their concerns, learn from one another and help make it better. We’ve had pretty good success; about 75% of those students have improved their attendance.” λ