This past Tuesday was one day of school that students at the Providence Career and Technical Academy definitely wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
At approximately 11 a.m., a large black SUV pulled up in front of the high school. The car was nondescript except for the entourage that jumped out and the police officers standing outside the school door. Inside the car, as a complete surprise to the school’s students, was Latin artist and reggaeton star Daddy Yankee.
Daddy Yankee was in Providence to join Get Schooled and Providence Public Schools at a recognition event naming the Providence Career and Technical Academy as national champion in the Get Schooled National Attendance Challenge for boosting its attendance by four percent during the first half of the school year.
Ten middle and high schools from Providence participated in the nationwide challenge, and more than half of all participating schools across the country reported an increase in attendance. As a surprise celebrity principal, Daddy Yankee inspired and motivated students to pursue their education.
Dressed in a white baseball cap, black jeans and an oversized leather jacket, Daddy Yankee first met with select student leaders and those from the 900 Club, who had achieved strong scores in the STAR math and reading assessments. The students were excited as they walked in with their cell phone cameras held high, ready to take pictures.
For a few minutes, the recording artist answered questions from students. He told them to stay focused and stay on the right path.
He told them a bit of his life in Puerto Rico, where he was born and raised in the neighborhood of Villa Kennedy Housing Projects in San Juan. “It is part of my life. It helped me to become the man I am.”
Born Ramon Luis Ayala Rodriguez, Daddy Yankee has established himself as a reggaeton singer, songwriter, producer and actor. But he originally aspired to be a professional baseball player and tried out for the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team. Before he was officially signed, he took a break from a studio recording session and was an innocent bystander hit in the leg during a crossfire. He spent five months in the hospital and his professional baseball prospects were gone.
“That was a turning point in my life,” Daddy Yankee said. “I wasn’t going to graduate from high school, but I called my teacher from the hospital and I made the decision to graduate and do the right thing.”
The shooting incident forced Daddy Yankee to focus on his music career and since then, he has sold more than 18 million albums.
The students took turns having their photos taken with Daddy Yankee before proceeding across the hall to the Field House for a school-wide pep rally with the popular star.
DJ Kabeza, Carlos Baez, of the radio station Latina 100.3, warmed up the crowd as he told the PCTA students “to be proud of yourselves. This is a great, great accomplishment.”
Daddy Yankee entered the Field House to rousing cheers from the entire student body and offered them some life lessons.
He said, “Instead of waiting for an opportunity, I created my own opportunities. I became an entrepreneur. If someone closes the door to you, you can open it.”
Daddy Yankee said the best piece of advice he got was to give back to the community to touch kids’ lives. He said he has travelled all over the country and the world meeting young people.
“Congratulations, students, and take advantage of all the opportunities that come to you,” he said before a brief question and answer session from the audience.
Mayor Jorge Elorza also congratulated the students on their achievement. He expanded on Daddy Yankee’s aspirations to be the best at all he does. “The sky is the limit. You can be the best at what you want to do in life. No one in this world is successful in everything they do. Often, we challenge ourselves. We fail, but we pick ourselves back up and try to do better the next time around. That’s what builds greatness.”
Before the program concluded, three students were invited to participate in a dance contest and the school was presented with a banner from Get Schooled.
The Get Schooled Attendance Challenge reached over 58,000 students from more than 80 middle and high schools across the country to increase their attendance and participate in online educational games that motivate students to stay engaged in their education. Schools reported their attendance on a weekly basis and earned points based on their attendance improvement and student engagement on GetSchooled.com. More than half of all participating schools across the country reported an increase in attendance.
Beginning in 2012, Get Schooled has worked with Providence Public Schools in its successful effort to combat chronic absenteeism in the district. During this period, chronic absenteeism in Providence high schools decreased from 55.5 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 45.6 percent in the 2013-14 school year. In 2013, Get Schooled and Kendrick Lamar recognized Mount Pleasant High School for its significant gains in attendance rates.
Attendance is a critical metric in school and student performance because it is one of the best predictors of high school graduation rates and college readiness rates. Despite its importance, a 2012 Johns Hopkins study estimates that 7.5 million students in the United States miss a month or more of school, putting them at risk for failing to learn key skills and potentially dropping out of high school.
Other Providence Public schools involved in Attendance Challenge included: Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, E-Cubed Academy, Esek Hopkins Middle School, Gilbert Stuart Middle School, DelSesto Middle School, Hope High School, Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex, Mount Pleasant High School, and Nathan Bishop Middle School.