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Good Attendance Could Land Harper High School Students a Job

By Wendell Hutson | March 23, 2014 8:10am
 William Harper High School Principal Leonetta Sanders met with parents and truant students March 20, 2014 to find out how she could assist them in improving their attendance.
Truancy Problem
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ENGLEWOOD — Harper High School students with good attendance won't only see the results on their report cards. They could get a job out of it, too.

The Rev. Johnny Banks Sr., executive director of the nonprofit A Knock At Midnight, last week told a group of 15 William Harper High School students and their parents that if they go to school every day on time for the next two weeks he would hire them at $10 per hour.

"And I'll make it easy for you by hiring you to work here at Harper," Banks said. "You can take me at my word. When I make a promise I keep it."

The nonprofit at 400 W. 76th St. employs 90 youths during the summer for 10 weeks through its Truancy Intervention program. He reminded students how school plays an important part in getting a job.

"In the real world, you have to work to eat, and you have to have some kind of education to get a job," said the 54-year-old youth advocate.

Banks also told students about how he grew up without a father, his stubbornness as a youth and his challenges in high school.

"I was a victim of my environment and dropped out of high school because of who I was hanging with," he said. "On my way to being stupid I became a father at age 13. And to this day there are two things I can never get back, and that's attending prom and my high school graduation. So don't be stupid like I was by not going to school."

While the attendance rate at Harper is 82.3 percent, 120 students have an attendance rate less than 70 percent, according to Principal Leonetta Sanders.

"And that's only because our seniors are carrying us. I require seniors to have a 90 percent attendance rate in order to participate in prom and graduation," she said. "Seven years ago, when I first came to Harper, the attendance was less than 60 percent."

Besides Banks, other speakers at the meeting included Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), whose ward includes Harper; Kathleen Bankhead, an assistant Cook County atate's attorney; and Christopher Mallette, executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy.

The school day at Harper starts at 7:45 a.m., but Jamel Mcgowan said he missed a lot of days because of his health.

"I have asthma real bad and my chest hurts a lot," said the 17-year-old junior. "But now that I have a chance to get a job, I will make an extra effort to go to school."

Jamel's mother, Joyce Mcgowan, said her son oversleeps a lot.

"He does not like to get up early. That's his problem," she said. "If he gets up by 8, I will make him go to school. But if it's 9 or 10, to be honest, I don't feel I should send him to school."

She explained that if her son goes to school late it might not be prudent to do so since the school day ends at 3:30 p.m. and he will have already been dinged for truancy.

Another Harper student, Pedron Tyler, 17, said he misses school because he's "just be too lazy sometimes and don't want to get up [in the morning]."

His brother, Taurean Tyler, 16, said he often stays up late at night and "sometimes don't feel like going to school."

But Pedron said Banks' program might be just the thing to get him back in the classroom.

"I need a job bad. I have been looking but have not found anything yet," he said. "This job would be right up my alley."

According to Chicago Public Schools data, there are 432 students at Harper, which is on academic probation.

Low attendance not only hurts a student academically, it affects school funding, as well.

"It certainly has a direct impact on our funding because the fewer students we have in the classroom the less money we get," Sanders said. "I realize a student's absence could be for a number of reasons, including issues at home, which is why we are reaching out to parents to offer any support services they may need."

Mcgowan said she won't have to worry about him skipping class anymore.

"If getting a job means coming to school every day, I can handle that," he said. "Money is a good motivator for teenagers."