Blog Article

Connecting to the Media to Talk Attendance

October 17, 2015

During Attendance Awareness Month, we kept noticing the great media coverage coming out of publications in the Quad Cites, which span Iowa and Illinois. We asked Alex Kolker, community impact manager of the United Way of the Quad Cities Area, how they did it. Here’s his response:

This year was the first time that the Quad Cities held a full-scale celebration of Attendance Awareness Month. As such, we decided that our main focus should be to increase basic public awareness about the issue.

Our United Way has an Education Council which oversees our Campaign for Grade-Level Reading work. The Council currently includes representatives from building trades, local corporate foundations, the Chamber of Commerce, institutions of higher education, and the superintendents from all eight local public school districts.

When we asked for their guidance on how to best promote the cause, immediately one of the superintendents offered to arrange for us to meet with the editorial board of both local newspapers – the Quad-City Times and the Dispatch/Argus – to ask them to cover the topic. Several other members of the Council volunteered to take part in those presentations.

Five days later, we were sitting down with the Quad-City Times editorial board, and with the Dispatch/Argus editorial board the next day. The President of our United Way, a representative from local business, and four school superintendents participated.

Both editorial boards were supportive of our mission and offered to cover Attendance Awareness Month not just in an editorial but with follow-up articles throughout the year.

Each newspaper published their own editorial, plus a follow-up article. Then, later in the month, they both published a letter drafted and signed by all the members of the Education Council. One of the superintendents wrote his own editorial for the newspaper in the rural outskirts of our community. The United Way President made attendance the focus of his once-a-month interview on a local morning television talk show.

United Way’s VP of Marketing sent out press releases, which resulted in coverage by the local public radio station. She also brought together the communications contacts from the major local school districts; together they created a series of posters (one each at the elementary, middle, and high school levels) to hang in every local school and fliers to send home with the students.

Our main message in all of our press outreach was the impact of absences on their child’s education was not just a concern for educators, children, and their parents. We also had a broader message for other, non-parent Quad Citians: that a child skipping school is not a family problem, it’s a community problem. As the Dispatch/Argus editorial board wrote in their piece:

Most Quad-Citians of a certain age will recall that, as kids, we were not just our parents’ children, we belonged to the neighborhood in which we lived. The lady across the street knew our family and was there to help in times of trouble. We didn’t dare cut class because the man next door would tell mom and dad, and no doubt give us an earful as well.

Today’s kids deserve and need to live in such communities. Help make this one, by being a concerned neighbor. Reach out to help a busy parent by offering a ride to school or being a mentor to a child who need ones. If you see a family’s struggles, call the school district to get them help.

The question we have gotten from other communities is how we were able to get such strong participation from so many community leaders on the issue. The answer is that we didn’t wait for something like Attendance Awareness Month to come up to begin coordinating our efforts.

Our Education Council has grown over the years, through our ongoing work and our willingness to step forward and coordinate our efforts with other organizations – whether they had Council representation or not.

We built that trust, engaged those new partners, slowly but steadily over the last four years, so that, by the time we presented the idea of Attendance Awareness Month to them this past August, we had many of the community’s top education leaders at our table, and they were already actively involved in our work and willing to lend their support.

You can read the editorial signed by the United Way of the Quad Cities Area Education Council here:

You can hear local radio coverage about Attendance Awareness Month, featuring one of our school superintendents, here:

Here are more clips

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