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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.
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