This National Public Radio story by Veronica Devore pains me:
Tyra Banks, rappers Nicki Minaj and Wiz Khalifa plus many other celebrities are behind an initiative from the Get Schooled Foundation to increase attendance in American high schools. Students and parents can sign up for the twice-weekly wake up calls that, in combination with school-wide attendance challenges and activities rolled out in 90 schools across the nation, encourage teens to get up and get to school.
Marie Groark, Executive Director of the Get Schooled Foundation calls attendance a “silent epidemic” that often goes unaddressed in favor of encouraging students to get to college or make something of themselves. When they’re only focused on the long view, she says, parents and students don’t think about the importance of just being in school every single day.
The student response to the robocalls has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Groark. The largest attendance gains from the program have come in the ninth grade, a crucial time for students to build good attendance habits and get integrated into the school culture.
“Ideally every parent in America would be reinforcing how important it is to go to school every day, but that’s just not happening,” Groark says. “We could sit around and blame the parents, or we could step in and think of creative ways to close the gap. At the end of the day, we can’t have another generation graduate at 67 percent – our kids and our country can’t afford it.”
This initiative is addressing what almost any high school teacher would tell you is one of the more frustrating aspects of their work. The phrase “silent epidemic” is excellent, but what does it say about our culture that many adolescents are motivated more by an automated celebrity voicemail than by living, breathing parents and guardians.
Keep making the calls as long as they’re making a positive difference, but using celebrities as parent surrogates or complaining about how little parents are doing to encourage academic achievement are not our only options. What about digging deeper and exploring why so many students don’t attend school regularly? Are students opting out because of lifeless curricula; or because of dated, boring teaching methods; or because there are few supports to help them catch up to the peers they’ve fallen behind; or some combination of factors?
Typically, high achieving students follow the footsteps of their parent(s), guardian(s), and older siblings who have modeled the benefits of doing well in school. The common thread is they don’t want to let down loving, caring adults in their lives, most often their parents. Celebrity calls are a superficial, stop-gap measure that don’t do anything to reverse the anti-intellectualism that contributes to students slighting school. Until we update curricula and teaching methods, provide more tutoring and related supports to low achieving students, and hold parents accountable for the silent epidemic, too many desk chairs will remain empty.