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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Local Education Leaders Take on Attendance With 'Be There' Campaign

Ninety percent of success in school is showing up — that’s what the United Way and its partners believe.

The United Way launched its “Be There” campaign Monday aimed at making attendance a priority at schools across Allegheny County.

“The concept is very simple, it’s how do you get the people outside of the schools, the community agencies, the faith-based organizations, the youth workers who have a great relationship with young people, to encourage 100 percent attendance,” said Bob Nelkin, United Way of Allegheny County President.

The United Way is asking nonprofit agencies that provide after school programs to make a commitment to encourage kids to go to school.

Nelkin said there have been efforts to get kids to school throughout the years, but this one is different.

“The police get involved, the magistrates get involved, the school disciplinary people get involved, this is the total opposite of that,” Nelkin said. “This is all about the kind, caring adults in the lives of kids encouraging them, motivating them, helping them understand how important it is to be in school.”

Ken Smythe-Leistico, Office of Child Development Assistant Director, said kindergarten is the grade where children are absent the most.

“With kids missing such a significant number of days, that’s actually predicting outcomes in the long-term starting all the way from missing early on in kindergarten and first grade, predicting that kids are not reading at their grade and that continued absences are actually predictive later of dropping out,” Smythe-Leistico said.

He said anytime there is a transition, such as moving from middle school to high school, certain kids who have anxiety issues.

Smythe-Leistico said last year was the first year Pittsburgh educators looked at how many children chronically missed school  or have 18 or more excused and unexcused absences.

He said nearly 25 percent of students in Pittsburgh who miss school are chronically absent, compared to 10 percent in other parts of the country.

Peter Lavorini, project manager for College and Career Readiness with Pittsburgh Public Schools, said the campaign originated from a call to action from Pittsburgh Public School Superintendent Linda Lane to identify strategies to improve attendance.

“We are working very hard in Pittsburgh Public Schools to foster strong teaching and learning environments in which our staff and our students feel safe and they feel welcome and they feel positively supported, Lavorini said. “We’re also working incredibly hard to make sure that we have an effective teacher in every class every day because we know that teachers make the hugest impact on these students’ lives.”

The United Way partnered with A+ Schools, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh Promise, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Office of Child Development, Allegheny County Department of Human Services and Congress of Neighboring Communities to launch the campaign.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.