Earnestine Rice Credit: photo by Jason Reblando

Improving attendance has long been a tough problem in high schools, and Marshall is no exception. At 84.5 percent, Marshall’s attendance rate is lower than the citywide average for high schools, 86.5 percent. In comparison, elementary schools post a citywide rate of 93 percent. Associate Editor Debra Williams spoke with Rice, a 30-year Marshall veteran who also started a grandparents program in which older adults provide mentoring to students.

Tell me about a typical day for you.

I usually get to work about 6:45, start calling some students, waking up students, waking up parents, too, to make sure [students] get to school on time. I do my calling early in the morning because that’s when you can catch Mom before she runs out to work or like I said, wake her up.

And at this point, you’ve kind of got a feel for which students need that call.

Yeah I do. You know who needs the call. And even after you call, some will still come in late sometimes. … If they’ve been cutting, you know you need to talk with the parents and see why, and also let the parent know the child has been cutting class. So after that, I have to get the attendance in on the computer [and] run the bulletin [that goes] to teachers to let them know just who was absent … My lunch time is when I call my grandparents.

What are the excuses you hear about why kids don’t come to school?

Some students say I overslept and it was too late to come. I was looking for my ID all day yesterday. I didn’t go to the Laundromat. … They give you all types of excuses. And I tell them, you don’t have an excuse, the bus runs, you can walk to the bus stop. Some of them say they don’t have bus fare, but they do. A lot of them, they’re on their way to school and they get distracted and go someplace else.

CPS has this new policy that says before you can drop a kid from enrollment, someone from the school has to visit the house.

I think it’s a great idea. We have [an employee] who goes out and visits the homes. … I think it’s something that is needed.

Do you think it’s easier to drop kids now than it was years ago?

You know, now and years ago are so different. … Now, if you say, ‘You’re going to end up being dropped if you don’t straighten up, [kids say] ‘Oh, go right ahead.’ They have this attitude.

What would help you do your job better, your wish list?

I think what would make it easier on all of us is if we had more cooperation from the parents. It’s got to start at home. Regardless of how many programs, regardless of how many people you hire to come in and fix this and fix that, there’s nothing going to happen unless you get some help from home. … I invite the parents, ‘Come up to the school, look at what your child is doing. Let us know you’re coming, feel free to visit the classrooms.’ … And communities have to get involved with the schools. The school can’t run itself.

Have you ever thought about expanding the grandparents [program] to elementary schools?

Yeah, I’ve thought about it. We went to a retreat and some of the different schools at the retreat said, we’ve got to copy off you. It would be a dream come true for me. It will save some [kids] because we have students right on the edge.

Right now I have a girl, she’s angry because she didn’t graduate last year. And I told her, ‘You know what, you come back, you’ve got to get that diploma. … If you want to get the diploma, come to school every day, do what you have to do. And for prom, I’ll buy you an outfit.’

There’s a college trip coming up. I said, ‘I’ll sponsor you, I’ll ask around, I’ll ask my daughter, I’ll ask other people to help me sponsor you on this trip.’ Because she needs to feel that she can do some things [with her life].

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