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City subway ads redirect anti-truancy message to parents

In the two years since the city launched its initiative to combat truancy and longterm school absences, they targeted students, with the help of teachers and celebrities like Magic Johnson. Now the initiative is turning its attention to parents.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today an advertisement campaign to inspire parents to make sure their children are in school each morning, and guide them to resources if their children are not. Each ad shows images of students and the public service announcement-inspired message: “It’s 9 a.m. Do you know where your kids are?”

Bloomberg told an auditorium of reporters, city officials, and young students and teachers at P.S. 91 in Queens that the city will be pushing to help parents increase their childrens’ attendance rates and understand the academic consequences of chronic absenteeism. Repeat offenders in elementary and middle school are more likely to drop out when they get to high school, he said.

“But many parents…don’t know what to do about it, and that’s why we’re launching the ad campaign,” he said. “It points parents towards help.”

The city will post these ads on public transportation and metro cards, in schools and community centers, and online. The campaign directs parents to visit the Department of Education web site, where they can find out how many days of school their child has missed. Librarians will be trained to help parents access this information, which requires a student identification number. And four times a year Department of Education officials will station themselves in the libraries to give more detailed advice to parents.

“I knew in my heart that chronic absenteeism really affects student performance,” Victoria Catalano, the principal of P.S. 91, said as students and parents looked on. Last year her school formed a weekly truancy committee and astudent-teacher mentorship program in response to a city initiative begun two years ago to target truancy problems. That initiative has so far prompted department officials to examine absenteeism data, encourage principals and teachers to reach out to students and parents, and create inspiring “wake-up calls” recorded by celebrities.

The ad campaign is aimed at parents, but Bloomberg said it is still the schools’ responsibilities to reduce absenteeism even where parental responsibility breaks down. Attendance rates are one of the factors that go into a school’s annual progress report grade, which city officials use to determine which schools to close each year.

“In the end it’s the parents job to raise the children. And the school systems can only do so much,” he said. “But having said that, we want to make sure the school systems do as much as they can. is it sufficient? In some cases sadly it is all that’s available because we do have children in the system who do not have a family, or, sadly, not a functioning family at home. Then the only guidance, the only moral compass, the only structure and discipline the kids have is in the school system.”

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