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New Campaign: 'It Pays to Stay in School'

Dorothy Rowley | , WI Staff Writer | 2/16/2012, 11:43 a.m.

Twenty percent of D.C. students miss 15 days or more days of school each year. In addition, a student's 9th grade attendance record is a good indicator whether they will graduate high school; and bullying and child care issues are among top reasons students give for missing school.

These are some of the findings of the Citywide Truancy Taskforce (CTT), the team tasked with developing and implementing initiatives to promote school attendance among District students. CTT is co-chaired by De'Shawn Wright, deputy mayor for Education, and the Honorable Zoe Bush, presiding judge for the Family Court at D.C. Superior Court. Both officials joined Mayor Vincent Gray Feb. 9 at Anacostia High School in Southeast to unveil the brand new media ad campaign: "The More You Learn, The More You Earn."

According to Gray -- who repeatedly lavished praise on the huge, predominantly black student body for various achievements over the years -- when students become truant, it's often the first step in a downward spiral.

"They wind up dropping out, getting into trouble and unable to get a job," Gray told his attentive audience. "They make 80 percent less than someone who graduates."

However, said Gray, "There's no greater feeling than putting on a cap and gown and marching with your peers to receive a high school diploma."

Gray went on to say during the festive kickoff -- emceed by "Free" from WPGC, and which included a high-paced performance by "The Beat Your Feet Kings" -- that in the fight against truancy, students are taking control of their life by recognizing they have a future.

He also said the city is poised to provide more employment initiatives that will result in more job opportunities for high school graduates who choose not to attend four-year colleges and universities. "More technology mechanisms will be in place [connected with] jobs that pay well," Gray said.

Wright explained it was his job to ensure students have access to the resources needed to be successful.

"Consistent school attendance is critical," Wright said. "A 9th grader who misses nine days a semester has less of a chance of graduating. It's never too late to turn things around and get back on track, but it's up to [students] to make that choice."

Bush agreed, echoing Gray's and Wright's sentiments that attending school is the best way to prepare for the future. She said she hoped to see more students with successful futures rather than "at a defense counsel's table where you shouldn't be." Bush also praised the mayor's efforts to improve education for the city's 45,000 students, saying he has been committed at helping to achieve the court's objectives.

The campaign, also aimed at parents and middle schoolers, intends to spawn much-needed conversation surrounding truancy and school attendance around the dinner table, in churches, barbershops and other community gathering places.

The campaign includes radio and transit advertisements, a social media component and posters that were created by students from the Academies at Anacostia (De'Andre Horne), Ballou (Acey Calhoun and Sasha Sauls) and Cardoza (Rebeca Lara) high schools and Paul Public Charter School (Ti'Ara Hairston), who might have previously been at risk of dropping out. The five colorful posters, which will be displayed across the District, offer each of the student's personal motivation for earning their diploma.