Thursday, March 10, 2011
by Kimberly Kohatsu "Wake up and get ready for class." If you're a teenager, you might expect to hear this from your mom or dad. But from your principal? That's exactly what happened to 500 chronically tardy students at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River, MA. The goal is to have 95% of students in class before the first bell rings. Last year, Durfee reached 89% attendance, when the goal was set at 92%. Administrators note that they do not rely solely on the automated calls; some go so far as to knock on doors. "We're looking to get whatever hooks the students," Ross Thibault, Durfee's vice principal, told Durfee is just one of the many schools employing voice broadcast to combat absenteeism. In New York City, a campaign named "WakeUp!NYC" launched last month, where chronically absent students in 25 schools received automated calls from celebrities including Magic Johnson, Jose Reyes, Big Boi, Terrence J and Rosci, Trey Songz. "To make it big," Trey Songz warns, "you gotta go to school and get your education, just like I did. It’s the key to a better future, better job, better money, better life.” “Through WakeUp! NYC we’re putting on a full-court press, using mass media and digital media to drive home the point that every student should be in school every day,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “It’s the next step in our efforts to cut absenteeism and put more students on the road to success, in school and in life.” Early results from the truancy program showed improvements in many participating schools. Elementary schools registered the largest improvement, with a collective 24% decrease in the number of absences. At Isaac Newton Middle School, the drop was nearly 39%. Among high schools, the High School for Teaching and the Professions in the Bronx showed the highest decline of 9%. WakeUp!NYC is also including a "good news" component, where students will be congratulated by celebrity partners for strong or improved attendance, because research suggests celebrating improved attendance helps further improve attendance. “We almost caused a stampede when we played the inspirational 'stay-in-school' messages from Trey Songz over the loudspeaker," Camille Jacobs, assistant principal at Pathways College Preparatory School in Saint Albans, NY, said. "My students thought a celebrity was in the building and ran to the office to see him. It really seemed to make an impression on them!” If you are interested in implementing a similar program for your school, district, or non-profit group, CallFire is an eager and enthusiastic partner. Our Voice Broadcast product makes it simple to upload a message and pre-schedule it to go out to a list of contacts. Call 877-897-FIRE to get started.