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Originally published October 3, 2011 at 7:53 PM | Page modified October 4, 2011 at 8:56 AM

Celebrity wake-up calls aim to increase school attendance

The "Be Here Get There" campaign is launching a multifaceted effort to increase attendance in Seattle Public Schools. Among the components are prerecorded celebrity wake-up calls, prizes for good attendance and investments in technology to provide better attendance data.

Seattle Times education reporter

quotes This is so warm and fuzzy it about makes you sick to your stomach! Read more
quotes Just another example of the little importance we really allocate to education. We... Read more
quotes raffles? prizes? celebrity wake-up calls? you've got to be kidding me! what part of... Read more

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If your daughter gets a phone call from Jesse McCartney in the morning, don't be alarmed.

McCartney and other celebrities, including Nicki Minaj, Baron Davis and Wiz Khalifa, are teaming up with cities across the country — including Seattle — to increase school-attendance rates through prerecorded wake-up calls reminding students of the importance of going to class.

"There's no greater predictor for high-school-graduation rates than whether or not the student goes to school," said Marie Groark, executive director of The Get Schooled Foundation, a national nonprofit affiliated with the Gates Foundation that is running the calls. "We thought this was a way to do something easy but powerful."

In Seattle, the calls are just one piece of a collaborative effort by that foundation, the mayor's office, the Alliance for Education and Seattle Public Schools.

The "Be There Get There" campaign focuses on rewarding attendance with donated prizes. Middle- and high-school students with fewer than five absences per semester will be entered into a raffle for prizes such as bicycles and concert tickets. The classroom in each elementary school with the best attendance each month will win a prize such as a pizza party. And the school with the best attendance at the end of the year will get a schoolwide ice-cream party.

Students also can earn prizes by signing up to get the celebrity wake-up calls, which start Wednesday.

The goal is that by 2013, 80 percent of students in Seattle Public Schools will miss fewer than 10 days of school per year. In 2009, just 62 percent met that threshold.

"Woody Allen said that 95 percent of success in life is just showing up, and it's true," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said at a news conference Monday unveiling the campaign. "But it really helps to have some friends helping you out, and that's what we're trying to do."

According to research McGinn cited, students who miss 10 days of school a year are about half as likely to graduate as those who miss fewer than five days. "One day that you miss can set you back," said Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, a Rainier Beach High School alumnus who joined McGinn for Monday's news conference.

Researchers acknowledge that many factors affect student achievement, and that poor attendance alone doesn't cause students not to graduate. The point is that absenteeism is an important indicator that intervention is needed.

Pegi McEvoy, assistant superintendent of operations at Seattle Public Schools, said the district is working to better understand reasons for absences and develop ways to addressing them. It's also working with new technology to collect data and identify trends faster, she said, and is raising awareness of the attendance issue.

McGinn took that message straight to the kids Monday, visiting classrooms in Denny International Middle School. He got a laugh when a sixth-grader grilled him about his own attendance in middle school.

"Did you have perfect attendance?" the student asked.

"No, I did not," McGinn admitted. "There are sometimes good reasons to miss school. But if you can make it, you should make it."

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com

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