In its fourth year, working in 67 schools and reaching more than 3,000 students, Show Up, Stand Out, has helped promote elementary school attendance.
In 2012, at least one in five DC students had more than 10 un-excused absences. The initiative, in partnership with 12 community organizations, sought to engage parents of elementary school children by offering one-on-one support to overcome barriers in getting kids to school.
Showing promising results – 86% of middle school youths referred for unexcused absences during its pilot phase were not re-referred the following year – the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants tapped Finn Partners to relaunch the program. With the main aim of engaging more parents, we positioned the program as a positive, welcoming resource, as opposed to penalizing children for being referred.
Backed with a new 360-degree campaign, we developed creative, messaging, and advertising, with research a key component.
After findings identified 61% of DC parents did not view school absenteeism as being a big problem, print and online PSAs with taglines such as, "Before he can be a CEO, he has to be a student," were featured in DC metro stations and on city buses. Research also found that 88% of parents view other parents as trustworthy spokespeople, so those with compelling stories – including one who had overcome homelessness – were put forward to share their experiences.
During the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students referred to Show Up, Stand Out, were not re-referred the following year. The campaign has gained widespread recognition in DC. Mayor Muriel Bowser named September as "Show Up, Stand Out, Attendance Awareness Month." The plan now is to expand to middle school students, and empower youths to take responsibility for themselves.
The youth component of the effort will speak to students via a text messaging and PSA campaign. New school-based clubs, operated by organizations such as Atlas Fitness and Men Can Stop Rape, offer students struggling with attendance a safe space at school, support, and outlets to learn skills outside the classroom. The efforts garnered the attention of AP and The Washington Post. During the 2014-15 school year, 71% of middle school students and 81% of elementary students referred to the program increased their attendance.
Alexandra Caceres is program director of the Truancy Reduction Initiative at the Executive Office of the Mayor in DC, Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants.