BERKELEY, Calif. - School day wake-up calls recorded by celebrities. Weekend makeup classes. Contests with laptop computers, private concerts and cars as prizes.
Educators across the nation are using creative strategies as another school year gets under way to convince students and parents that regular attendance matters - and not just for grades and achievement.
New research suggests missing as little as two weeks of school can put young children behind their peers, burden overworked teachers, cost districts state dollars and undermine mandates to raise standardized test scores. So many public school districts have launched campaigns to reduce all absences, not just those serious enough to warrant a home visit from a truant officer.
Art teacher Karen Canizzaro, instructs Qualeem Robinson, 5, of Pleasantville, left, at the Galloway Community Charter School in the Smithville section of Galloway Township, N.J., Thursday.
The rewards are designed to supplement courts, mentors and other interventions for addressing serious truancy. They direct attention to what education experts call "chronic absenteeism," which applies to students who miss 10 percent of their classes for any reason and may even have parental permission to be out of school.
To counter slumping attendance that tends to worsen as adolescents get older, about 200 middle and high schools in 17 states will be competing this fall in a challenge organized by Get Schooled, a New York-based nonprofit that uses computer games, weekly wake-up recordings from popular singers and actors, and social media messages to get students to show up in the name of school spirit.
The winner of last year's seven-week competition, a Seattle middle school, received a private concert from R&B performer Ne-Yo.
Elk Grove Unified School District outside Sacramento has made rewards a hallmark of its school attendance strategy for six years. As part of the "No Excuses - Go to School" campaign, middle and high schoolers with a month's worth of perfect attendance have been entered into raffles for laptops, while elementary schoolers with the same records have for bicycles. Local businesses donate the prizes.
The program has been so successful the district changed the rules for winning the grand prize - a $20,000 voucher for the local auto mall, which also agreed to pay taxes and licenses on the winner's new car. To be eligible, high school seniors used to need one month of perfect attendance over the school year. Starting last year, the criterion was raised to five months.