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Browns show their support for Cleveland classroom that has stepped up its attendance

Christian Kirksey stands in the middle of a huddle, leading a pregame chant like he always does. His shorter-than-usual teammates rock around him with their arms on each other’s shoulders, hanging on every word of Kirksey’s pep talk.

Kirksey’s used to this scene; he’s used to being the center of attention and motivation before leading his team into competition. Tuesday’s backdrop was a little different, though. Instead of leading a huddle at FirstEnergy Stadium or the Browns’ training facility in Berea, he’s in the gymnasium at Cleveland’s Clark Elementary School.

He’s firing up a team of third graders before a relay race where the first team to collect and arrange letters that spell “Get 2 School” will be declared the winner.

“I see a lot of myself in these kids,” Kirksey said after the races. “It just brings back memories of when I was in elementary school having a lot of fun with your classmates. Those are gonna be some of your best friends for life. That’s what I explained to the kids.”

Kirksey, safety Damarious Randall, kicker Greg Joseph and linebacker D’Juan Hines visited Clark Elementary in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s “Get 2 School, You Can Make It” campaign on Tuesday to celebrate a class of third graders’ great attendance this school year.

The campaign’s goal is to ensure that kids attend school every day. Statistics gathered by the school district show that once a Cleveland child misses 10 days of school, their test scores drop in both reading and math, and their chances of graduating high school drop by 34 percent for ninth and 10th graders.

Some children in Cleveland struggle to attend school because of problems with access to food, health care, money for uniforms and transportation. That’s why the Browns showed up Tuesday to celebrate dedication to good school attendance from the third graders at Clark Elementary knowing it will significantly increase their odds of achieving in school and graduating high school.

“In talking to parents and looking at attendance data, we hope to uncover the barriers preventing kids from attending school and look to find as many support (groups) and resources as we can to help kids get to school and stay in school,” said Renee Harvey, Vice President of the Cleveland Browns Foundation. “And to see (our message) really resonate with the students when (the Browns) come out for visits like this, we know the message is being heard that showing up to school and giving your best is important for long-term success.”

The Browns helped spread that message in the classroom Tuesday. Randall, Joseph, Kirksey and Hines stood in front of Mrs. Schoolcraft’s third-grade class and recited pledges to attend school every day, always arrive on time, ask questions when you need help and more. The players said the pledge, the students repeated it and the players chose students to check off each pledge on a poster that hung from the chalkboard.

After passing out Browns goodie bags containing school supplies and signing autographs, Chomps, the Browns’ mascot, led the students to the gymnasium. From there, students were divided into five teams, one led by each player/mascot. Their task was to run toward a silver tin dog bowl while hurdling pool noodles and grab a letter. Hines’ team finished first, but all of the students were declared winners.

The second relay included square-seated scooters. The students were to ride the scooters as fast they could toward a cone at the opposite end of the gym, touch the cone and hurry back. They were told the players might assist them.

Joseph was the first to push his teammates along in the scooters. His desire to win knocked one off their scooter. He didn’t stop there, either. As Randall pushed a student past Joseph’s team, Joseph pulled Randall’s jersey. And when Kirksey acted as a road block in Joseph’s lane on the final leg, Joseph scooped up the student (and the scooter) and whisked him to the finish line.

“We had a faulty wheel,” Joseph said. “So I had to take matters into my own hands and get a victory for my team.”

No matter who won — or how they won — on Tuesday, the Browns’ visit to Clark Elementary conveyed an important message to the students: get to school and stay in school. And in the process of conveying that message, the players relived some good times and were reminded of the role school has played in their journey.

“I can’t be a Cleveland Brown if I wasn’t a student first,” Kirksey said. “You can get hurt (or experience) anything that takes you out of your career. But nothing can take away how smart you are.”

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