BENTON — When Matt Tabor walks the halls of Benton High School, he could pass for a student. He's not much taller than a freshman. Kids pull him aside and joke with him like he's their BFF. And he smiles a lot.
"He's a great guy, strict but fair," said Colton Brown, one of Tabor's charges.
Brown is one of the students in Tabor's attendance class, a program he began last year to help curb excessive tardiness and absenteeism at the school.
Tabor said he had 68 students in his class last semester who missed a combined total of 2,000 days of school last year. At the end of first quarter this year, those same 68 students missed an average of fewer than three days.
How did he do it? Tabor said it's all about caring for the students.
"At the end of the day, education comes down to relationships," he said. "If a kid is missing 30 days of school in a year, there is a reason. It's usually outside influences or something at home is not correct in their life, then they have substance abuse problems, they may absolutely have no one at home forcing them to go to school. It's my job to hold them accountable."
In Tabor's class, students not only learn proper study habits but also the core values of responsibility and discipline. As a byproduct of better attendance, the students' grades have also improved, he said.
"If there's one thing I'm most proud of, it's that out of the 68 students I had last semester, 25 of them did not have a single F on their report card."
Brown was one of those students who missed a lot of school last year. His grades slipped pretty bad, he said. Both improved since he was referred to Tabor's class.
"'Tabes' has been a good mentor to me, been there helping me out," Brown said. "He's been like another dad to me. He helps all the kids, gets them on track in their life, try to get them to get good grades. That's what he's been doing with us."
Tabor said if most teachers would step back and get to know the kids, it would help develop a relationship with them and improve their grades. Kids have to know you have their best interest at heart, he said.
"That kid will show up for you and do whatever you ask him to do," Tabor said. "It works every time."