Education
11:42 am
Wed November 9, 2011

Can Tyra Banks Get Kids To School? Seattle Says Yes

Originally published on Wed November 9, 2011 4:53 pm

Kids aren't usually eager to wake up and get to school in the morning. They might be, though, if their favorite musician or professional athlete called to coax them out of bed — or if a shiny new bike were on the line.

At least, that's what adults in Seattle think. So the city has a new plan to improve school attendance.

Isaac Bennett, 16, lives a few houses down from his high school in north Seattle. Yet the junior didn't make it there very often last year.

"I had like 167 absences for sophomore year, which wasn't good," he says with a laugh.

He says one of his biggest struggles was first period world history. Getting up was tough because he'd stay up late to toss a virtual football around on the X-Box. Try as they might, his parents were no match for the mock New England Patriots. They'd tell him to shut off the game at 9:30 p.m., again at 10 and at 10:30. They even tried taking it away.

"But they'll eventually fall asleep," Bennett says. "And I would just, behind their back, just like still play video games when they're not awake."

His parents didn't have much more luck in the mornings. Once they went to work, no one was there to shoo him off to school — until one of his favorite rappers showed up.

"Yo. What up?" a recording says. "It's your boy Wiz Khalifa, man, from Get Schooled, talking to all you kids in Seattle, letting y'all know you need to get up out of the bed and go to school. Get to class, on time."

Bennett says Wiz Khalifa can get him going because he's one of his favorite rappers.

Other celebrities, including America's Next Top Model host Tyra Banks and professional quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, have also recorded wake-up calls that students can sign up for through the national Get Schooled Foundation.

Seattle officials are pushing the calls, plus a variety of prizes and mentorship programs, to motivate truant kids to change their ways.

"The statistics around attendance are very compelling," says Mayor Mike McGinn, who is leading the charge. "If somebody misses more than 10 days of school a year, [it's a] very high predictor that they're not going to finish high school."

McGinn's office is spending nearly $50,000 to coordinate and implement the effort. Local businesses are donating the prizes — everything from VIP concert tickets to free gourmet ice cream for the whole school. McGinn says the model is similar to a fairly successful approach in New York.

"It's a very clear statement that being in school matters," he says. "But it's also a message to the broader community that they have a role to play in getting engaged."

Peter Colino teaches math at Ingraham High School, where Isaac Bennett skipped all those classes. He says if the kids get a job, they're not going to have someone calling them to wake them up.

"If they don't go to work, they're simply not going to have their job," Colino says. "And this is what happens if you don't come to school — you don't graduate."

Besides, he says, flashy prizes and celebrity robo-calls won't fix family issues or other problems that keep a lot of students from making it to school.

Still, Isaac says that for him, these incentives can be the extra little push he needs.

"Just, I guess, to keep myself motivated," he says. "Like, oh, I'm getting prizes and I'm doing a good job in school, you know. Ding, you're like, 'I'm coming to school every day.' "

While he hasn't quite done that, Bennett's attendance has dramatically improved. Adults behind the effort say getting kids to school more often is the whole point. And it doesn't matter if it takes pizza, sports stars or musicians to do it.

Copyright 2013 KPLU-FM. To see more, visit http://www.kplu.org.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And I'm Guy Raz.

Getting the kids out the door in the morning could be a challenge for any family. But Seattle schools think they have the solution: enlist the help of favorite musicians and athletes. Charla Bear, of member station KPLU, reports on the city's new plan to improve school attendance.

CHARLA BEAR, BYLINE: Isaac Bennett lives just a few houses down from his high school in north Seattle, yet the 16-year-old junior didn't make it there very often last year.

ISAAC BENNETT: I had like, 167 absences for sophomore year - which wasn't good.

BEAR: That's right, he ditched 167 times. One of his biggest struggles was first period world history. Seems getting up was tough because he'd stay up late to toss a virtual football around on the Xbox.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: He drops the easy pick.

BENNETT: Come on. That's one thing about "Madden" - I get too much into it sometimes.

BEAR: Try as they might, his parents were no match for the mock New England Patriots. They'd tell him to shut off the game at 9:30; again, at 10 o'clock; then, 10:30. They'd even tried taking it away.

BENNETT: But they'll eventually fall asleep. And I would just, behind their back, just like, still play video games when they're not awake.

BEAR: His parents didn't have much more luck in the mornings. Once they went to work, no one was there to shoo him off to school - until now.

WIZ KHALIFA: Yo. What up? It's your boy Wiz Khalifa, man, from Get Schooled, talking to all you kids in Seattle, letting you all know you all need to get up out of the bed and go to school. Get to class on time.

BEAR: Bennett says Wiz Khalifa can get him going because he's one of his favorite rappers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK AND YELLOW")

KHALIFA: (Singing) Yeah, uh-huh, you know what it is. Everything I do, I do it big. Yeah, uh-huh.

BEAR: Other celebrities, including America's "Next Top Model" host Tyra Banks and pro quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, have also recorded wake-up calls students can sign up for through the national Get Schooled Foundation. Seattle officials are pushing the calls, plus a variety of prizes and mentorship programs, to motivate truant kids to change their ways. Mayor Mike McGinn is leading the charge.

MAYOR MIKE MCGINN: The statistics around attendance are very compelling. If somebody misses more than 10 days of school a year, very high predictor that they're not going to finish high school.

BEAR: McGinn's office is spending nearly $50,000 to coordinate and implement the effort. Local businesses are donating the prizes: everything from VIP concert tickets to free gourmet ice cream for the whole school. McGinn says the model is similar to a fairly successful approach in New York.

MCGINN: It's a very clear statement that being in school matters, but it's also a message to the broader community that they have a role to play in getting engaged.

PETER COLINO: You know, if they get a job, there's not going to be somebody calling them, saying hi, it's Michael Jordan, and it's time for you to wake up.

BEAR: Peter Colino teaches math at Ingraham High School, where Isaac Bennett skipped all those classes.

COLINO: Because if they don't go to work, they're simply not going to have their job. And this is what happens if you don't come to school - you don't graduate.

BEAR: Besides, he says, flashy prizes and celebrity robo-calls won't fix family issues or other problems that keep a lot of students from making it to school. Still, high school junior Isaac Bennett says for him, these incentives can be the extra little push he needs.

BENNETT: Just, I guess, to keep myself motivated. Like, oh, I'm getting prizes, and I'm doing a good job in school, you know? Ding, you're like, I'm coming to school every day.

BEAR: While he hasn't quite done that, his attendance has dramatically improved. Adults behind the effort say getting kids to school more is the whole point. And it doesn't matter if it takes pizza, sports stars or musicians to do it.

For NPR News, I'm Charla Bear in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.