Ideas for Virtual Programming and Improving Student Attendance

Our partners have shared that their two biggest challenges are chronic absenteeism and supporting students virtually. Partners can play a key role in helping schools remove barriers to participation and learning. Below are ideas compiled from church and school partners on how to implement virtual programming and attendance initiatives. You can also learn how one church and school partner have implemented an incentives program and are already seeing results!

Please track your volunteerism hours after each opportunity.

Virtual Tutoring and Mentoring

MNPS has created a virtual learning guide to assist schools in implementing virtual programs involving volunteers. You can check it out here:

Staffing and Structure: There must be an MNPS staff member present on the call. Microsoft Teams is the MNPS approved platform for virtual learning. For students who are in the the physical classroom, students can join the tutoring or mentoring session virtually with their volunteer. The staff member present in the physical classroom can monitor the virtual programming.

For students who are in a virtual classroom, an MNPS staff member must be on the virtual call with the student and volunteer. We suggest having multiple students and volunteers on one call. Volunteers can co-tutor or co-mentor together.

Content: Students can read from a common text in a round robin fashion. Staff can provide the text to volunteers ahead of time. They can ask volunteers to create comprehension questions to pose to students while on the call. If mentoring, the staff member can poll students to find out what topics they would like to learn about and discuss. Volunteers can create questions ahead of time. The staff member can also create a general curriculum or power point to present to everyone on the call to guide discussion.

Topics: Session topics can include homework help, reading texts from class, discussing current events, career development, time management, setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them

Volunteer Requirements: All volunteers must complete the appropriate volunteer orientation, registration, and background check. You can check out this checklist to ensure you are following this process. Volunteer Checklist.

Attendance Initiatives

Attendance has proven to be one of the biggest challenges for schools as students learn remotely. Some schools are experiencing 40% to 50% chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing at least 10% of the school year. Students and families are navigating very difficult times as they try to assist their students with school while also working. To help support and encourage students and families, our partners have created programs to remove barriers and make achieving attendance goals a family affair!

Incentives Programs: Schools can create incentives programs to encourage students to meet their attendance goals. To make it a family initiative where everyone is encouraging their student(s) to meet attendance goals, consider providing incentives that benefit the entire family. Church partners can sponsor incentives such as gift cards, food boxes, and pizza parties for the whole family where pizza is delivered to their house.

You can create categories for different achievements, such as Most Improved Attendance, Met Attendance Goals, or Zero Days Absent. Make sure to reward both students who are making gains and students who are already continually showing up. Students who meet these goals can have their names thrown into a “hat” for a chance to win an incentive prize. You can also recognize these students publicly during the morning announcements or on the school’s social media platforms.

You can also create attendance goals for the entire class to achieve together. This can create a sense of camaraderie and community. If the class meets their attendance goal, you can have a guest speaker join the class virtually. Church volunteers make excellent guest speakers. They can talk about their career, hobbies, etc. Make sure to poll the class to know what they want to learn about so you can match the appropriate volunteer with the class.

Incentives Program in Action at Bellevue Middle School

“Virtual learning has been a challenge. Some students have missed as little as one day to as many as fifty days. Although every case is different, I knew we had to do something to help these students log on EVERYDAY. Most parents must work and aren’t able to stand over their child’s shoulder every day.  I decided to do an attendance competition that would help not only the students but their families too.   

If a student didn’t miss any days during the month of November, they’d be entered in a drawing to win a $200 gift card. I specifically targeted students who missed 9-45 days of school. I reached out to families and told them about this new competition and how they could win.  We announced it on our morning announcements to bring more awareness.  Parents were excited as this could provide basic needs for families. We have already seen students making gains and meeting their goals through this program. Three students had perfect attendance for November. One student grew from attending 43% of school days in October to 93% in November. Another student grew from attending 33% of school days in October to 86% in November.

United4Hope and Saint David’s Episcopal Church came in at the PERFECT time! Saint David’s Episcopal Church collected twelve $50 gift cards. Because of their HELP, I was able to reward more than just one family. They have also helped turn this into a monthly incentive where the church will collect gift cards monthly.  We are living in a time of uncertainty and high unemployment. Saint David’s Episcopal Church’s contribution has been a blessing to these families. ” – Bellevue Middle School School Liaison

Saint David’s Episcopal Church was happy in November to begin activating our new partnership with Bellevue Middle School. One of the first areas we engaged around was the need for virtual learning engagement incentives. Reverend Carolyn Coleman helped us immediately in announcing this giving opportunity with her Sunday service announcements. Our United4Hope committee made asks of the congregation in grassroot ways. We included the need in our digital bulletin and email updates that went out that week/weekend. In a very quick turnaround, we donated twelve $50 gift cards from Walgreens, Kroger and Walmart. We know this is such a unique year with very unique learning environments both for the students and their families. We hope this support gives those students and their families a little encouragement to keep going during these hard times. – Saint David’s Episcopal Church Coordinator

Notes of Encouragement: Volunteers can also write notes of encouragement to students to encourage them to meet their attendance goals. To ensure student privacy, volunteers do not have to be given the names of students. Instead, volunteers can address the note generically, such as “Dear John Early Museum Magnet Middle Jaguar.”

Regarding distributing the letters, there are a few options. The church coordinator can collect the letters and schedule a drop off at the school with their school liaison. Volunteers or coordinators can also mail the letters in a big envelope to the school. Schools can ask that the volunteer put a stamp on the individual letter envelopes so the school just has to write the student’s address on it. Schools can also choose to not mail the letters and instead distribute them at drive through food box events or during home meal deliveries.

If you would like assistance with recruiting volunteers or implementing these programs, please email