Schools Use Celebrity Wake-Up Calls to Battle Truancy

If the phone rings one morning and you hear a cheery “good morning” from Magic Johnson on the other end of the line or the R&B singer Trey Songz telling you to “get your education,” don’t hang up and roll over, bury yourself under your blanket and go back to sleep. This is no prank call. It’s the city’s latest attempt to get students who persistently skip class to start showing up more often.

The campaign, appropriately named “Wake Up! NYC,” rolls out next week. It will focus on the 6,500 students who have been absent for 10 or more school days in a single year and attend one of the 25 schools whose principals volunteered to join the effort. If it yields results, it will be expanded citywide, where roughly 250,000 students miss at least one month of school in a given year, officials said.


The prerecorded phone messages are one element of a multimedia campaign aimed at reaching students through the radio and television shows they follow, social networks to which they belong, and artists or athletes they idolize. City officials hope students will make the connection between education and success.

“If you’re not in school, you can’t learn, and if you can’t learn, you can’t have the dignity of a job or be self-sufficient,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Thursday, as he kicked off the campaign from inside the library at Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science in East Harlem. The school has one of the city’s lowest attendance rates but showed the biggest improvement among the schools that are part of a broader push to reduce chronic truancy, launched last spring.

On the phone, the students might hear from Mr. Johnson, Mr. Songz, the Mets shortstop José Reyes or Terrence J, co-host of BET’s hugely popular music-video show, “106 & Park.” Besides prodding them to go to school, the caller will also praise them for their improved attendance, when the numbers warrant praise.

Word will also spread on the radio, on television and on the Web, through partnerships with 98.7 KISS-FM, Hot 97 FM, Rock 101.9, MTV and BET.

Through the antitruancy program, which began in April, the city connected 1,000 chronically absent students with mentors, who would often wait for them outside school to ensure they got to class and contacted them when they did not; linked parents with social services agencies to address some of the reasons behind an absence; and held weekly meetings among the principals so they could discuss what had and had not worked in their approaches to cutting the number of absences.

Between September and December, 22 of the 25 participating schools – 10 elementary schools, 8 middle schools and 7 high schools – showed progress; Mr. Bloomberg and several other speakers on Thursday, including the schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, referred to a chart that had more green than red.

Elementary schools registered the largest improvement, with a collective 24 percent decrease in the number of absences. At Isaac Newton Middle School, the drop was nearly 39 percent. Among high schools, the High School for Teaching and the Professions in the Bronx logged the highest decline, 9 percent. But at Richmond Hill High School in Queens, there were more absences in the first four months of the 2010-11 school year than during the same period in the past school year. As of Dec. 23, roughly half of the school’s 2,900 students had been absent for a month or more, the chart showed.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in this new phase of the program is to get a right or working phone number for the students, many of whom live in homeless shelters, use disposable cellphones, move often and may not have a working land line, or may fail to notify the school of a change in contact information.

“If we don’t act now and if we don’t act early, we’ll be forced to deal with the consequences later, when kids drop out of school, when teens get pregnant or a kid who should be a student instead winds up an inmate,” said John Feinblatt, the mayor’s chief policy adviser.

Or, in the words of Mr. Songz, “to make it big, you gotta go to school and get your education, just like I did. It’s the key to a better future, better job, better money, better life.”

Powered By WizardRSS
Go to Source