Warner Exchange

Warner Elementary Incentivizes Parents to Make Student Attendance a Priority
Posted on 09/27/2022
Principal Gibbs and Ali Jenkins

The Warner Exchange room

Missing school generally isn’t a young child’s fault. Factors beyond their limited control can keep them out of class, reducing their learning time and throwing up obstacles on their path to academic success.

So Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School dreamed up a new approach to getting its 419 students into classrooms on a regular basis: incentivizing their parents to get them there.

Thus was born the Warner Exchange. It's a store in an upstairs room at the East Nashville school – which was recently named a Tennessee Reward School as one of the top-performing schools in the state – that nearby churches and other donors have filled with household cleaning supplies, food and other items.

In exchange for their children’s attendance, parents can “shop” in the store once a month. 

“To provide a world-class education, our scholars must attend school,” Warner Principal Ricki Gibbs said Monday to the Rotary Club of Nashville, which is getting ready to start volunteering at the exchange. “But we also know that a number of our families in our city run into financial issues and things that hinder them from getting to school, and most of those stem around basic necessities.”

Here’s how it works: Students earn five “Warner Bucks” – each buck is worth a dollar – for each day they’re present at school. Once a month, their parents can sign up to go to the exchange and use the Warner Bucks students have accumulated to buy up to 10 items if they have one child at Warner or 18 items if they have two or more children there.

parent shopping in Warner Exchange

Diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, laundry detergent, tissues, toilet paper, hand soap, cereal, pasta, peanut butter, shampoo, baby food, soup, rice, cleaning supplies and more fill the shelves in the room, which housed old educational materials before Gibbs and Ali Jenkins, who came up with the idea, started transforming it into the Warner Exchange. The items, which are donated in response to the exchange’s Amazon Wish List, are priced for parents based on local retail prices.

Calvineshia Ray, a mother of a pre-K student and a second-grader at Warner, came in Friday as the exchange opened for the new school year and went home with a few bags full of cleaning supplies and hygiene items.

“It definitely helps parents who need help,” Ray said. “It releases stress off people. I know it does off me.”

Ray said she already emphasized education and regular attendance with her children, but the incentive provided by the exchange is “another motivator.” She said she’ll have a new godson soon and will be able to help the parents by picking up some diapers in the store.

Jenkins, a former Communities in Schools site director at Warner who continues to oversee the exchange as a contract employee, said detergent and Swiffer cleaning supplies tend to be the most popular items.

Jenkins said the idea for the exchange came after months of listening to families and understanding that a lack of basic household items often affected their children’s attendance.

“We’re excited about increasing families’ awareness of their students’ attendance in a non-punitive way,” she said. “We want to make sure all families know this is open to them.”

Gibbs said the exchange also carries another message for Warner’s students.

“It shows our scholars there are people in the community who don’t know them that are praying for them,” he said. “There are people in the community that may not see them every day, but they’re sending them good energy, and they want to wrap their arms around them to ensure that every day they can show up to school and receive a world-class education.”

Attendance Matters

September is Attendance Awareness Month across the country, and MNPS is working hard this month and every month to ensure families understand the importance of their children being in school every day. The district’s “Attendance Matters: All Day, Every Day” campaign gives families tools to help students succeed, such as establishing a morning routine and preparing for each day the night before.
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