This segment originally aired Nov. 3, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
“Good morning Franklin Square family members,” Principal Terry Patton told her students. “Thank you for coming to school.”
Patton starts every morning at Franklin Square Elementary and Middle School by sharing what percentage of students showed up to school the day before. It’s part of a series of strategies she has developed over the past 14 years to increase the school’s attendance record.
“We talk about it every morning, we talk about it in the afternoons, and when we go into the classrooms and I look around, I’m happy to see everybody’s there,” Patton told VICE News correspondent Roberto Ferdman in Baltimore.
Across the United States, schools in the poorest areas also tend to be the schools with the poorest attendance rates. “Right here in this particular area, we are number one for—and it’s nothing to brag about—teen pregnancy, boarded up homes, anything that you can think of that’s not the best,” Patton said.
Franklin Square has delivered clocks to families whose kids weren’t arriving on time, it offers a laundry machine for kids who don’t have clean clothes, and it even opened a barber shop for students with strong attendance records. The school is one of the poorest schools in all of Baltimore, but it has a chronic absenteeism rate that’s about half the citywide average.
“You can’t get the kid and be like, ‘Look, you gotta go to school.’ No, you gotta talk to the parents to find out what’s going on,” former attendance monitor Deidre Reeder said.
Franklin Square students said their biggest motivation to attend school each day is that they just don’t want to disappoint Principal Patton.