Family sings its way to perfect attendance Young rappers don't miss a day

June 11, 1993|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

Thanks to their mother's inventiveness, Willie, Wendell, Whitney and Winton Baker didn't miss a day of school from September to March.

Yvette Williams, 35, said that instead of hounding her children to go to school, she used rap songs to motivate them.

Each morning as the children prepared for classes at George Washington Elementary School on Scott Street in Southwest Baltimore, the family sang rap songs about the importance of education.

The effort paid off and on June 2 the Baker children -- Willie, 10, Wendell, 8, Whitney, 6, and Winton, 4, who attends prekindergarten -- were among 6,921 students who were honored at the Baltimore Arena for perfect attendance.

The First Annual Perfect Attendance Gala for Baltimore City Public Schools was part of the public awareness campaign to combat truancy that was launched in November by Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, said Jacqueline Hardy, an organizer of the event and a spokeswoman for the schools.

In announcing the program, Dr. Amprey noted that as much as 80 percent of daytime crime is committed by juveniles who are truants.

For some time, city schools have been plagued with low attendance. Of the 110,000 students in the system, about 20,000 have been identified as being chronically absent, missing at least 36 days of school.

On any given day, 13,000 students are absent from school, many unlawfully, according to officials.

Approximately 1,800 students missed 100 days of school last year.

During the 1992-1993 school year, attendance declined about 1 percent overall from February through April, officials said.

Attendance among the 85,000 elementary and middle school students showed a slight increase of 1.8 percent, but among the 21,000 high school students, there was a 1 percent decline.

The schools reported a 16.4 percent dropout rate for the 1992-1993 school year.

Stuart Tabb, the school system's attendance chief, said the $300,000 Student Attendance Initiative program has been "wonderfully effective" in increasing attendance in 60 targeted elementary and middle schools long troubled with poor attendance.

Sixty-eight attendance aides were assigned to those schools to identify chronically absent students.

The aides monitor attendance records and phone parents of chronic truants to discuss the problem.

The attendance initiative also includes a mentoring program for elementary school students, social workers to counsel parents of truant students and a truancy-dropout-prevention program for high school students.

According to Ms. Hardy, the superintendent's initiatives "had a tremendous impact during this school year and schools have accepted the challenge enthusiastically."

Dr. Tabb said the gala was organized to inspire students.

"The gala did a wonderful job in attracting one segment of the school population. It got the kids who would be absent a day or two or three to come in with a cold, or come in for half a day instead of missing a full day for a doctor's appointment," he said.

Said Harlow Fulwood, a local businessman who originated the idea for the gala: "If kids aren't in school, they will present another type of problem.

"We have to continue to place the emphasis on education, especially in the early stages."

Ms. Williams, the rap-singing parent, speculated that the number of students with perfect attendance in city schools has increased because more parents realize the importance of education.

"Nowadays, places don't want to hire you to sweep the floor without an education," she said.

"People just want to do better now that they see that things are so bad. People just want better things out of their lives."

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