Awarding perfect school attendance to cut down on truancy

At an awards banquet on Saturday the Northwest CommUnity Coalition for Youth (NCCY) celebrated students from Northwest Philadelphia schools who have perfect or near perfect school attendance and who have displayed exemplary community service.

The 3rd Annual “Onward to Excellence” ceremony was held at Imhotep Institute Charter High School, at 6201 North 21st Street. Chuck Donaldson, community liaison for NCCY, says the event is central to their mission of promoting positive behavior and people aware that “a truant youngster is not a safe youngster.”

“Today’s event is to celebrate the students,” said Donaldson, “we want to encourage them to attend school and to take their education seriously. Everyone here today is involved in keeping youth in the Northwest safe.”

A large part of their work has been in creating a network of businesses, religious groups, law enforcement and community centers who host an open door policy for youth in need. Each affiliate group also has staff that have been trained by the NCCY.

The Philadelphia Police Department has been a part of the initiative for the past several years. Two Police Captains, Joel Dales of the 14th District and John McCloskey of the 35th District, received the NCCY’s “Crusader for Peace” award for “displaying the most initiative in bridging understanding among young people, schools and the community.”

During a monthly conference call with the NCCY, the officers discuss issues like truancy. One thing the officers have done to monitor truancy is talking to local businesses and asking them to stop selling to young people during school hours.

“If they cater to kids who are nine and 12 years old, that’s a problem,” said McCloskey. “We ask them not to serve those kids.”

The officers have also given out their personal cell phone numbers so that NCCY and school officials can contact them.

“I can be reached directly at any time,” said Dales. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

One recipient of the “I Don’t Skip” attendance award, Destiny Bethes, who attends Anna Blakiston Day School, has had perfect attendance for the past three years. Proud parent Monika Walton says she believes her daughter will again have perfect attendance next year.

“My six year old also has perfect attendance too,” said Walton. “We just wake them up in the morning, get them ready and get them to school.”

Her husband, Kevin Walton, says this award is the first time he has learned about the NCCY, and he is glad to know the group exists in the Northwest.

“I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Walton, “we didn’t have a group like this when I was growing up. It’s great to hear about children doing well, you don’t hear enough good news.”

The ceremony included an award for “Student Community Service,” which was given to New Media Technology Charter School. The award was chosen after an NCCY Youth Forum, which sought to get young people’s perspective on bullying. One exercise challenged students to develop, write, produce and perform an anti-bullying message that will be filmed by the NCCY.

“Good Neighbor” awards were also given to volunteers who work with schools and the entire community to promote NCCY’s mission.

Schools who had winners in the “I Don’t Skip” category included: Anna Blakiston Day School, Hope Charter School, Imhotep Institute Charter High School, Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School, Leeds Middle School, New Media Technology Charter School, Ombudsman Accelerated School, Wagner Middle School, and West Oak Lane Charter School.

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