New Book Spotlights School Attendance

“School is a really great place to be, where learning is fun — come along and see!”

That’s the message of the new children’s book Be A Healthy You! In School. Created by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque in partnership with local family therapist Julie Homb, LMHC, and Abigail Degenhardt of Dubuque County Early Childhood, the book aims to help children feel excited and confident about going to school, helping address the critical issue of school attendance.

The book is now available for purchase, and it is being distributed to every student in preschool through first grade in the Dubuque and Western Dubuque Community School Districts.

“Making sure students are at school ready to learn is one of the most important ways of supporting academic success,” says book co-author Cynthia Wehrenberg. “In Dubuque, 38% of students are either chronically absent or at risk of being chronically absent. We aim to address the root causes of this issue, including barriers at home and in the community.”

Drawn by illustrator Tim Read of Ames, the diverse children in the book are shown traveling to school on foot, by car, by bus and on bikes and skateboards. They greet one another warmly in different languages and enjoy fun activities with their peers, teachers and family members.

The book also tackles issues that prevent some children from attending school, including access to adequate clothing and food, as well as nervousness about asking for help with schoolwork or emotional support.

Addressing attendance and chronic absence is one of the key ways the Foundation works to improve children's academic success.

“There are many myths around chronic absenteeism that we want to dispel,” says Mary Jo Jean-Francois, director of impact at the Community Foundation. “It’s not about laziness or lax parenting. It can actually be about things like social anxieties and challenges at home. With this book, we show that school is a supportive environment where educators are ready to help.”

Be A Healthy You! In School builds on the success of Be A Healthy You! In Dubuque, also written by Wehrenberg, Homb and Degenhardt, which was published in 2021. That book focuses on ways children can have a healthy body, brain and heart by using local landmarks to engage readers. Like the previous book, Be A Healthy You! In School includes tips for parents and guardians, and the text is printed in Open Dyslexic, a font designed specifically for readers with dyslexia.

The overarching goal of the Community Foundation’s Every Child Reads initiative is to support reading proficiency by the end of third grade, which is a key predictor of high school graduation. To do this, the Foundation partners with educators, nonprofits, parents and others in the community to address four areas: School attendance, summer learning, school readiness and access to books.

About half of third graders in the Dubuque public schools are not reading proficiently, and through efforts like both Be A Healthy You! Books, the Foundation and its partners are working to support a community-wide culture of literacy.

“Dubuque, like many communities, is facing an early literacy crisis that was worsened by remote and hybrid learning and social isolation during the pandemic,” says Community Foundation President and CEO Nancy Van Milligen. “Now is the time for everyone in the community to come together in support of children’s academic success.”

For more information about the book or to purchase a copy, contact the Community Foundation at 563-588-2700 or office@dbqfoundation.org.