SCS to fight truancy with incentives for attendance

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Shelby County Schools announced a new campaign to fight truancy through incentives. Its motto is "Represent Everyday."

"No, I won't be late," one Cherokee Elementary School student assured WREG.

SCS said students at Cherokee Elementary are representing everyday. As an iZone school, it started in the bottom 5 percent in the state. It has seen vast improvement.

"His school [Cherokee Elementary] had the highest increase in success rate in the entire district," Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told media gathered for the campaign's announcement.

The school said part of that success comes from a push for attendance. It offers rewards for kids who show up.

"If they're here every day, they're not checked out, they're here on time, they go to the cafeteria. We give them popcorn and juice. They dance 15 minutes, we send them back to class," Cherokee Elementary Principal Rodney Rowan said.

Now, the district hopes to get others in the community involved in positive reinforcement. The district's campaign partners with the Grizzlies and other organizations to offer incentives.

"Students who have 95 percent attendance or better at the end of nine weeks are eligible for four tickets to an upcoming Grizzlies game," Grizzlies representative Diane Terrell said.

Plus, she said players will pop into schools for surprise visits.

District Attorney Gen. Amy Weirich said enforcement will remain the same. She said she hopes this program keeps kids in school before anyone faces the legal system.

During last school year, the DA's office said 243 parents were issued and served summons at the DA's 14 truancy mentoring program schools. That number does not count families at other schools who were charged in juvenile court.

"Last year, there were 22,000 kids, K-12, who missed 10 percent of their school days, so that's 18 days," Weirich said.

"We can lock everybody up, but that's not going to improve attendance," Hopson said.

There have been incentive programs in the past. The DA's office gave bikes to kids with perfect attendance.

The district hopes the "grit and grind" yields an even bigger response.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell declared September Attendance Awareness Month.

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