If Jermaine Kearse calls your children to tell them to get to school on time, it’s not a prank.
What better motivation to roust students out of bed in the morning than a wake-up call from a Seahawk?
Starting with kids in Tumwater, that’s just what’s going to happen soon with a robocall recorded by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who barks, “Get up and go to school!” along with an early-morning dose of football talk.
“Don’t be left on the sidelines. The future is all yours; all you have to do is show up.”
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Kearse has actually recorded two messages for school districts — one for students, and one in which he notifies parents when a child is absent.
He’s just as direct with parents, advising, “Coach ’em up. Be in the game every day.”
Kearse, a Washington native, is just the first local professional athlete to sign up for this effort.
The Sounders and Storm will recruit some of their players to record similar messages, and one of them will be in Spanish, said Tom Pennella, deputy director of Mentoring Works Washington, a public-private partnership that supports youth mentoring programs across the state.
Mentoring Works recently worked with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state Department of Social and Health Services to convince the Seahawks, Sounders and Storm to record the messages as part of a statewide effort to lower absenteeism in schools.
In Washington, nearly 1 in 5 students are chronically absent, meaning they miss 18 days or more during the school year for any reason, excused or not.
“We got to do something, and what do we have to lose?” Pennella said.
Many districts already use computer-generated messages to notify parents about student absences — or sometimes ones recorded by school principals. But Pennella said the organizations wanted to try something they thought might work better.
“Anything with the Seahawks sells, so we figured this would catch them off-guard,” he said.
A growing body of research suggests that missing even a few days of school each month can have big consequences.
In elementary school, students with a history of poor attendance tend to fall behind their peers in third-grade reading. By middle and high school, they also are more likely to fail courses and are less likely to graduate on time, if at all.
Districts in Washington state are trying to address the attendance problem in a number of ways, including offering incentives for perfect or improved attendance, working with parents to find reliable transportation to school or helping with the treatment of chronic illnesses
Some schools, for example, keep inhalers available at the nurse’s office so students with asthma don’t have to go home.
And now, they can add celebrity robocalls to their toolbox.
The idea isn’t new.
David Ortiz of the Red Sox, better known as “Big Papi,” recorded similar messages last year for Boston Public Schools. In New York City, chronically absent students woke up to calls from Magic Johnson and the R&B singer Trey Songz.
(Even Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson borrowed the idea last year when he launched a motivational alarm clock — minus the snooze button — to encourage early-morning workouts.)
The Get Schooled Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit that works with cities across the nation to improve attendance rates, helped New York with its campaign and several years ago took it nationwide.
About 50,000 children, including some in Washington, signed up to receive wake-up calls from rap star Nicki Minaj, the boy band One Direction and Seattle’s own Macklemore. The foundation eventually recorded messages with close to 100 celebrities, said Marie Groark, executive director.
But they’ve since moved on — to funny and inspirational text messages.
Over time, “We realized that kids don’t really answer their phones any longer,” Groark said. “It seems really old school.”
In a statement, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction noted it is looking into text messaging, too, and will likely work to reach students and their parents in a number of ways.
“We are connecting with Get Schooled next week to get their feedback on their experience,” it wrote. “We are trying a number of approaches and will adapt as we learn.”
The Tumwater School District, just south of Olympia, is one of the first districts to sign up to use the Kearse recordings.
And it is just one way that district is working to improve its attendance rates. In 2015, about 18 percent of its students were chronically absent.
The district also has started collecting data about why students miss class, and what can be done about it. And on Monday it will host about 250 middle- and high-school families in a class about truancy and its impact on a student’s academic progress.
“We have a lot of ground to make up,” said Brian Hardcastle, an attendance supervisor.
“We’re trying to emphasize it’s important for us, and for (parents), to have your children in school every day.”