Middle schooler A.J. Madden was shocked to walk into her school cafeteria to the sound of stereos bumping with music from her favorite local hip hop station, while radio personalities roamed the room.

“I’m trying so hard not to cry right now. It’s like meeting LeBron James,” A.J. said.

The pop-up party that took over the lunchroom of The Academy at Shawnee Friday is one of the ways Jefferson County Public Schools is encouraging students to boost their attendance. The district launched its Every Day Counts campaign in January, and each month the district surprises students at one school to celebrate their improved attendance.

“Since the start of the school year we’ve been finding ways to encourage kids to miss less than six days of school this year,” said JCPS Chief of Communications Renee Murphy.

Liz Schlemmer |

JCPS poster advertising its “Every Day Counts” campaign to boost student attendance.

A.J. said her principal has been encouraging better attendance with regular messages on the school intercom to report the school’s progress on its attendance goals. A.J. tried harder not to miss school this year, with some simple changes.

“I used to just not come to school to get my hair done and stuff, like unexcused, and now I put that to the side and wait on weekends,” A.J. said. “So I can fit in school, every week.”

A.J. also rescheduled therapy sessions. Those appointments might be excused by the school’s attendance office, but they still keep her from being in class.

Jennifer Peña (left) and A.J. Madden (right) enjoy the music during the pop up party that took over their lunch at The Academy @ Shawnee. Liz Schlemmer |

Jennifer Peña (left) and A.J. Madden (right) enjoy the music during the pop up party that took over their lunch at The Academy @ Shawnee.

Those little changes paid off. A.J. said her grades went up. The Academy at Shawnee had the most improved attendance of all JCPS schools this year, raising its overall attendance rate by over 1.5 percent. Those efforts brought the school’s total attendance rate up to 87.6 percent. Those gains are especially felt at Shawnee, which had one of the top five highest rates of chronic absenteeism among JCPS high schools last school year.

JCPS is working to improve its overall attendance and rates of chronic absenteeism. The Kentucky Department of Education considers a student chronically absent when he or she misses 10 percent or more of instructional time over a year, which amounts to 17 days of school. State measures of chronic absenteeism count both unexcused and excused absences.

A.J. and the classmates gathered around her lunch table were thrilled to be in school this week, so they didn’t miss the unexpected party.