LOCKPORT -- Lockport High School has cut the rate of student tardiness by 47 percent this year, thanks to a lunch detention program that began in September.
Under the program, Principal Frank Movalli said, students who are late for school are placed in a quiet, supervised study hall -- called lunch detention -- during their scheduled lunch period instead of eating with classmates in the cafeteria.
"Since we started doing that, our incidents of tardiness have dropped from 11,628 in 2005-06 to 6,150 this year" from September through February, Movalli said.
"This is working because students don't want lunch detention, and our staff enforces it," said Assistant Principal Dawn M. Wylke, the administrator who organized and coordinates the program. "In my opinion, the kids don't want to miss lunch with their friends. That's their social time."
The idea came up a year ago during a superintendent's conference day discussion.
"Tardiness has been a big problem for us," Movalli said. "Everybody thought lunch detention would be a good idea. The teachers seemed to like the concept and were willing to support it. So we did it."
Movalli said he believed it would work, but not as well as it has.
"I thought maybe we'd cut tardiness by 20 percent, but I didn't anticipate cutting it in half," he said.
Before starting the program up, Wylke said, she got feedback from staff about how it should work and brought teachers on board to supervise it.
She said lunch detention works because every morning the attendance staff compiles a list of tardy students. At lunchtime, if those students haven't reported to lunch detention, teachers track down the students.
"The teachers [and lunch monitors] go right into the cafeteria and get them if they need to," Wylke said, "so it's enforced and everybody's on the same page."
The program has made a big difference, she said.
"I had kids last year who were tardy every day, even if it was only one or two minutes," Wylke said. "Now those same kids are on time every day. Last year, we used to have a line of kids coming out the door for attendance every day because they were late for school. That's because a lot of kids didn't want to go to homeroom because they saw no value in it, or wanted to sleep in that extra five minutes if it was was just homeroom they were going to miss. And there were no real consequences for it."
Also, Wylke said, students often brought no excuse to school for being late. Lunch detention changed that.
"The way they can avoid lunch detention is by bringing an excuse from a parent to school. If they have an excuse, they don't get lunch detention although they are still listed as tardy," Wylke said.
"The big advantage is kids are getting into the habit of getting an excuse from a parent when they are late," she said.
Movalli said the whole dynamic in school has changed. The number of unexcused absences -- students missing a whole day of school -- also has dropped dramatically from the start of the school year through February, compared with the same time last year.
"Unexcused absences have gone down from 9,184 last year to 1,534 this year," Movalli said.
That's an 83 percent decrease.
Wylke said she likes the program because it means parents are now more involved with the school lives of their children.
"Our goal is to make sure parents know what's happening with their kids in school," she said. "Some parents didn't even know their kids were coming to school five or 10 minutes late because it wasn't affecting their overall attendance record. So by having kids bring a parental excuse to avoid lunch detention, parents are more aware and are getting on their kids more to be on time for school."
Since lunch detention started, Wylke said, "I've had more contact with parents calling and saying, 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry I forgot to give my son the note. It was my fault.' So communication with parents has definitely increased."
Because of it, Movalli said, parents are becoming more aware and are more prone to consult with the school about other things concerning their children.
Wylke said teachers also are pleased.
"You have teachers who teach first-period classes where kids were coming in a couple of minutes late every day, and it was continuously interrupting their lessons," she said. Now, she said, "they are excited that kids are making a concerted effort to be there on time."