Photo by Ty Swenson
NBA player Jamal Crawford and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn speak with the media after launching Be Here Get There, an incentive-based program to improve Seattle public school attendance on Oct. 3.

Seattle launches incentive-based school attendance campaign

Denny International Middle School used for the launch ceremony

Seattle’s public school students now have some pretty strong incentive to show up for class thanks to the citywide Be Here Get There campaign officially launched on Oct. 3 at the new Denny International Middle School.

Mayor Mike McGinn described the program as “a research-driven, incentive-based campaign to raise awareness about the importance of kids getting to school, and improve academic achievement by improving attendance.”

Be Here Get There is a joint initiative of the City of Seattle, Seattle Public Schools, the Alliance for Education and Get Schooled. Non-profits City Year, a volunteer corps focused on education, and Youth Ambassadors, focused on helping students solve truancy problems, are also involved.

The Mayor brought some star power to the launch with NBA players (with Seattle roots) Jamal Crawford and Will Conroy. Seattle Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield, Denny Principal Jeff Clark, and Youth Ambassador “Gabby” also spoke.

For the students, there are some intriguing prizes on the line. Those who miss fewer than five days a semester are entered into a drawing for VIP concert tickets (all age shows), gift cards, iPods, iTunes gift cards and more.

Mayor McGinn said the elementary, middle and high schools that show the biggest improvement this school year will get a visit from Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Truck.

“That means we are not just coming up with incentives and prizes, not just coming up with wake up calls,” the Mayor said, “but that the entire community take a look at why is it that children are not making it to school. Maybe it is something simple – maybe they just need a ride. Maybe it’s something more complicated in which case we can take a look at what resources we have in the city … to help children that are having difficulty.”

Parents and students of West Seattle schools can track their progress on the Get Schooled website, showing historical attendance rates and percentage of students with fewer than five absences.

Superintendent Enfield said the program goal is to have no students with more than 10 absences by 2013.

“While the research is clear that regular attendance is a predictor of student success we are also mindful of the fact that Life Happens,” she said. “That’s why we are having a window there, knowing that students do have reasons for absence, be it illness … family events and certain cultural norms that really require sometimes our students be out of school.”

13-year-old Gabby, a Youth Ambassador who goes to Hamilton Middle School and volunteers as a peer-to-peer counselor for other students having problems with attendance, relayed a few personal experiences of "Life Happens." One girl she spoke with has a clinically-depressed mother she takes care of. On some days she had to give up on school to make sure her mom was OK. Another boy was having problems with video game addiction, staying up late playing games and having trouble falling asleep early enough to make it to class the next morning.

Jamal Crawford, who most recently played point guard for the Atlanta Hawks and attended Rainier Beach High School, said, “I think the thing that makes Seattle special is that we care about our community.

“I think this program will be historic,” he added. “Moving forward I know our community will be shaped and molded by these kids we help get into class because that’s everything. If we get them in class they will be more well-rounded adults. If they are more well-rounded adults they have a chance to be successful in life.”

Recalling his own bouts with truancy as a teenager, Crawford said, “When I was a freshmen and sophomore in high school I remember missing a lot of class … and it was always hard getting back into class. When I was in class I loved it; the hard time was getting back into it.”

Will Conroy, currently playing in the Turkish Basketball League overseas and most recently with the Houston Rockets, played for Garfield High School growing up.

“Once kids see the light at the end of the tunnel, they put a little more effort into fulfilling a goal,” he said.

To prove his point, Conroy told the story of teaching a Garfield summer basketball team and offering the kids five dollars to anyone willing to take a charge.

“And I had kids everywhere flying around taking charges,” he joked. “I’m not saying we should pay the kids to go to school but we all know, growing up as kids, if you had a field trip you woke up a little earlier that day because you knew you were doing something fun.”

Denny Principal Jeff Clark added his school’s take on attendance.

“At Denny we have a slogan,” he said. “’We don’t have a minute to waste.’ We don’t have a minute to waste giving each and every one of our kids an outstanding education.”

Mayor McGinn summed up the Be Here Get There program with this:

“I think it was Woody Allen who said, ‘95 percent of success in life is just showing up,’ and I’ll tell you its true and no matter what people are saying about you or how bad things seem, just keep showing up.

“But it really helps to have friends to back you up and to help you out to get there. The incentive is really just a way to show our appreciation.”

Mayor McGinn offers his personal perspective on this campaign in his first column exclusively for the Robinson Newspapers.

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