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Thousands of students are hoping to smash a record Thursday in the second annual Challenge 5 Day, a joint attendance initiative led by United Way of the Quad-Cities Area.

The magic number to beat is 96.1 percent. That’s the rate of attendance for last year’s Challenge 5 Day, the day students at area school districts strive for 100 percent attendance.

Jennifer Walker, vice president of brand strategy and marketing for United Way, said the attendance initiative is a collaborative effort with the East Moline, United Township High School, Moline-Coal Valley, Rock Island-Milan, North Scott, Davenport, Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley school districts.

Walker said the Arconic Foundation also has supported the initiative.

Superintendents from participating districts will gather 9 a.m. Thursday at Virgil Grissom Elementary in Princeton for an assembly. Walker said students are planning a Challenge 5 cheer or dance, and a high-five line also is on the agenda.

The participating superintendents are part of United Way's education council, where Walker said the attendance initiative "really bloomed."

Beyond Thursday, the initiative encourages students to strive for fewer than five absences during the school year. Walker said chronically absent students — those missing 18 days or more per year — score 20 percent lower in reading and math, are twice as likely to have to repeat a grade, and are twice as likely to have their first suspension before seventh grade.

Last year, 39.2 percent of the participating schools had students missing nine or more days of school, Walker said. That's a slight improvement over the prior year's figure of 39.4 percent.

Walker said studies show attendance matters and can affect how students perform on testing, how long they remain in school and whether they graduate. The impact of attendance, she said, lasts longer than just a student's school years.

"It’s really one of the linchpins to help kids get set up for success," she said. "The attendance habits they get now will follow them throughout their life."

Amy Schelker, principal at Rock Island Center for Math and Science, said the Challenge 5 effort has been a big success at the school. Last year, more than 96 percent of students were in attendance for both first and second semester, which she said was a tremendous improvement from prior years.

"Our biggest success has not just been student attendance, but the amount of students who were truant decreased tremendously," she said.

Schelker said the school saw student truancy decrease by more than 10 percent for the 2017-2018 school year compared to the year before. That translates into about 50 students improving their attendance status, she said.

Schelker said her school regularly celebrates great attendance and significant improvements at a morning meeting. On Thursday, students will receive slap bracelets. She said the bracelets and other rewards, such as stress balls and Chik-Fil-A kids’ meal gift cards, are provided by United Way as an incentive.

School staff plan to continue stressing the importance of attendance with families, she said, with staff working to remove barriers that may prevent students from getting to school.

In July, United Way reported the East Moline School District had a 9 percent improvement in student attendance during the 2017-2018 school year. In a release, superintendent Kristin Humphries said the district was pleased with the improvement but "we still have a lot of work to do to get this number down even further."

Humphries said the district has worked hard to communicate with families the importance of regular attendance and to celebrate students with excellence attendance.

In advance of Thursday's event, many school districts have issued newsletters and other information to families. The Moline-Coal Valley issued a release this week urging parents and students to make every one of the school year’s 176 days count by attending classes.

According to the district, eight in 10 chronically absent kindergarten and first grade students will not read at grade level by the end of third grade. Three out of four chronically absent sixth grade students will not go on to graduate high school.

The district also reported that on the last Challenge 5 Day — Aug. 30, 2017 — its students posted a 97 percent attendance rate.

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Business Editor/Night City Editor