This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Have a good idea about how to get students to school on time? The District and iHeart Media, along with Read by 4th – the citywide effort to help children read by 4th grade – are sponsoring a social media contest to promote school attendance. The initiative includes public service announcements on the radio and a contest for those 18 and older to share tips on social media for getting students to school on time. The contest uses the hashtags #AttendanceHero and #ContestEntry. At a news conference announcing the campaign, Superintendent William Hite said – during a record cold snap outdoors – that winter is a tough time for families to get up and running. "But when students miss school, they also miss out on the potential to become confident, engaged learners," he said. Jenny Bogoni, the executive director of Read by 4th, emphasized the importance of good attendance for the youngest students. "It’s all connected: going to school every day on time, learning how to read, and doing well in school and in life," she said. Otis Hackney, the city’s chief education officer, said that it is also important to instill good habits into students when they are small. Parent Eva Sanchez, the Read by 4th attendance ambassador at Alexander McClure Elementary School, said that "the foundation for … good education begins with regular attendance." Her son is in 3rd grade. The iHeartMedia station Power99, the campaign’s media sponsor, will help curate the best tips for strong attendance that are being shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram through Jan. 28. Four winners will be chosen randomly and awarded $500 and a pair of Power99 concert tickets. In the fall, as part of the Attendance Hero campaign, Mayor Kenney recorded robocalls that went to students’ homes. In an experiment, the District has also sent letters home to parents informing them of the importance of getting students to school and telling them how often their child has been absent. Research shows that the postcard tactic has an impact. According to the District, preliminary data showed that between September and November, attendance improved compared to the previous school year, after it had dipped between 2015-16 and 2016-17. In 2015-16, 42.4 percent of District students attended 95 percent of the time. In 2016-17, 38 percent of students met that attendance rate. Without providing any numbers for this year, District spokeswoman Megan Lello said: "At this point, we’re trending upward and are looking forward to … building off this momentum."