Truant Students Get House Call

September 10, 2007

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This morning starts the second week of classes for Chicago Public School students, but already some kids are no shows. That's why Chicago Public Schools officials went knocking on doors over the weekend to try and convince truant students to attend school. Research shows, students who miss 10 days of class a semester have a greater chance of not graduating. Chicago Public Radio's Natalie Moore reports.

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CPS officials have identified ten high schools with low attendance rates. To get those truant students back in the classroom, CPS officials and volunteers are showing up at their homes with gift incentives.

This past Saturday, schools CEO Arne Duncan knocked on doors in the Englewood neighborhood.

ambi: knocking on door...

He reached out to students who once attended Paul Robeson High School.
 
Michael Everett opens up his front door to the CEO flanked by media, schools officials and volunteers.

The large crowd that looks like it's giving away a sweepstakes. Instead, it's a back-to-school message. Robeson's principal was part of the entourage:

MORROW: Hi, I'm Gerald Morrow, the new principal of Robeson. This is Arne Duncan, our CEO.

ARNIE DUNCAN: How you doing? How many credits do you have?

STUDENT: 19.

DUNCAN:You're almost done.

STUDENT: Yeah.

DUNCAN: How do we get you through?

STUDENT: I just need to…man…finish all the work I have.

DUNCAN: You want to go to an alternative school?

STUDENT: Yeah.

Before he signs up for an alternative school, eighteen-year-old Michael Everett has a hard time explaining to Duncan why he's been out of school.

WOMAN: How long you been out?

EVERETT: Four, five, six months.

DUNCAN: How's it not been being in school?

EVERETT: It's been rough…been getting into a little trouble.

DUNCAN: Not being in school isn't all it's cracked up to be?

EVERETT: No, it ain't…

Then Duncan went to a few more houses.

Leo Austin didn't show up the first week of school either. He did enroll last week though.

Standing next to her son in the doorway of their home, his mother tells Duncan Leo will be there …

AUSTIN: If he don't have no problem. Here's the principal right here. My daughter used to go there. They shoot there and they fight there.

MORROW: We're going to do everything we can to make sure everybody has a safe and secure academic environment. You have my word on it, okay?

AUSTIN: Okay.

CPS officials say the dropout rate is on the decline, but black males have the system's lowest graduation rate, at 34 percent.

Administrators say they hope the one-time door-to-door effort this past weekend brings about 200 students from across the city back to school today.

Another student Robert Doxy transferred last year to Robeson from a south suburban high school. He says his spirits dampened last year when he found out he couldn't graduate due to lack of credits.

So he stopped going around prom time. He says the personal invitation to come back to Robeson worked.

DOXY: I'm feeling kind of good now. You know? I feel like I have a second chance. And now I'm going to have to show myself. And just you know prove to myself that man, I've got to get past this. There's more to life…you've got to move on.

Elsewhere in the city, more than 100 CPS officials and volunteers knocked on doors of students who were no shows last week or have dropped out.
 
One of the new dropout prevention plans is to place advocates at each of the ten schools with high dropout rates.

The advocates will track students on a weekly basis, keeping up with their grades and attendance.

I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.