UNION SQUARE — Kelly Rowland urged kids to stay in school and make it all the way to graduation during a back-to-school event in Union Square Thursday.
More than 200 children, ranging in age from elementary to high school, attended the "Wake up Call Back 2 School Kickoff" event, organized by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
In addition to a guest appearance by the former Destiny's Child singer, the festivities included a back-to-school themed obstacle course meant to get them excited about returning to the classroom this fall.
The children screamed and cheered as Boys & Girls Club representative Frank Sanchez introduced Rowland.
“She’s got a resume so long she can’t carry it,” he said.
When the Grammy award-winning singer took the stage, she emphasized the importance of staying in school.
“To be honest, I couldn’t have done any of that [my career] without an education,” Rowland said.
The songstress helped lead the crowd of children — all members of the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club and its four clubhouses — in a pledge in which they promised to get to school on time, finish all their homework and graduate high school.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” she cheered.
Last year, the city's high school graduation rate was 65 percent, up 14.5 points from 2005. And the dropout rate was 12.1 percent in 2009, a 9.9 point drop from 2005.
Rowland posed for photos with children, who grinned and squirmed to get close to her. One girl was even on the verge of tears as she approached the singer.
Next, Rowland made her way to the start of the obstacle course, which was built to represent the typical start of a school day.
Racers started by lying on beds and then bursting into a sprint when volunteers rang oversized bells, or “alarms.”
The children dashed to the next station, where they had to put together a puzzle representing the various food groups that would make an ideal breakfast.
Next stop was a table where they grabbed school supplies and stuffed them into a backpack.
Then they were off to school, climbing onto big-wheeled tricycles and slaloming through traffic cones. The kids ditched the bikes to dodge through towers of hay bales, leap over more hay and dive through large doorways set up at the end of the race.
One-by-one, the kids plowed through the doors, panting and sweating but grinning, with bits of hay clinging to their clothes.
The children were enamored by several parts of the course, but the bicycles and the hay were clear winners.
As one girl finished, barely able to catch her breath, she turned to another and asked, “Wanna go again?”
The event was a first for the Boys & Girls Clubs, said Erica Stevens, senior director for the clubs' education and arts programs.
Her program recently received $1 million from AT&T, which allowed them to put on the event and will further support their efforts to promote education.
“There are so many kids that need after-school programs,” Stevens said. “We must wake up and be ready to improve the outlook for our youth.”
Tom DeVito, vice president and general manager for AT&T in New York and New Jersey, called the drop-out rate a “silent epidemic.”
“This epidemic, we’ve got to stop it in its tracks,” DeVito said.
Natavia Louis, 18, said she is an example of how the clubs’ educational programs can work.
The Boys & Girls Clubs recently named Louis “youth of the year.” On Friday, she is heading to Petersburg, Va., to move into the dorms at Virginia State University.
“[The Boys & Girls Clubs] made a big impact on my life,” said Louis, who has been involved since she was six. “They mean the most to me.”