Watts Residents March Against School Absenteeism : Getting Home the Message on Truancy

Times Staff Writer

Looking determined, Alice Harris marched up the driveway of the house in Watts and rapped loudly on the door. "We want to help you," she announced.

Tentatively, the door opened, and a woman peered out. Within minutes she was on the porch talking with some animation about the difficulties of persuading her 17-year-old daughter to regularly attend nearby Jordan High School, where she is enrolled as a sophomore.

"I send her, but she just doesn't make it," Nancy Hopkins said. "I talk to her all the time. I talk and I talk."

Hoping for Results

Harris and two cohorts were there to talk some more. Only this time they hoped for results.

They were among more than 130 parents, teachers, school administrators and community leaders participating Saturday in the first Walk on Watts for Attendance and Achievement. Beginning with a spirited rally featuring the Jordan High School Marching Band and ROTC, the group marched through Watts waving signs and chanting slogans such as "Don't Be a Fool, Stay in School."

Then they divided into small groups to knock on the doors of students known to have poor attendance records for personal appeals to the children and their parents.

"We want them to know that somebody cares," said Harris, the mother of 14 and one of the organizers of the event. "We need our children. Without an education, they can't have a future."

The inspiration for the event, Principal Odaris Jordan said, came from the realization that Jordan High School has one of the highest absentee rates in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Of the school's 1,700 students, she said, an average of 525 miss school each day, a phenomenon she attributes largely to low self-esteem.

'Feeling of Hopelessness'

"Youngsters who fall behind have a feeling of hopelessness," Jordan said.

By demonstrating support for staying in school, she said, the marchers hope to raise the community's awareness to the extent that there will be public pressure against truancy. And by visiting the truants at home, she said, they hope to learn enough about the causes of absenteeism to form a task force that will map out a long-term strategy to combat it.

Judging from the reactions Saturday, they may have some support.

Beginning at Markham Intermediate School on East 103rd Street, the group wended its way through the neighborhood, passing some of the dozen-or-so elementary schools that feed into Jordan and evoking friendly honks and waves from passers-by.

"It might help," said Beverly Jacobs, 36, standing on a corner. "It's a good idea."

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