In 2015, after analyzing its data, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) decided to create and launch a community-wide campaign to galvanize support for its scholars to improve attendance and ultimately educational outcomes. The data showed that chronic absenteeism (missing 10% of the school year, or 18 days) was a clear marker for decreased educational outcomes. CMSD also noticed that at 10 absences, their students' reading and math scores decreased, and they were 34% less likely to graduate on time. CMSD saw this as an opportunity to intervene early and rally the community to set attendance as a strategic priority, to help their students have a greater opportunity to thrive academically.
To do this successfully, CMSD realized the importance of shared ownership as chronic absenteeism was a community issue to address. The "Get 2 School, You Can Make It!" attendance campaign was officially launched in 2015 and rallied the community around its schools, families and students. The Cleveland Browns were proud to support this initiative from its inception and partnered with CMSD to help raise awareness around the importance of school attendance, provide incentives to students for positively changed behavior and help address barriers keeping students from attending school regularly.
Over the next few years, the Browns were part of the district's attendance committee, providing campaign materials to distribute throughout the community and schools, player and mascot visits, game day experiences and tickets, along with support to help address barriers to attendance.
Two of the top issues identified as impacting attendance were school uniforms and the ability to track school buses to know when buses would arrive at their scheduled stop and when their child arrived safely at school. The Browns Foundation proudly worked with the CMSD Transportation Department to provide funding to support their efforts to install GPS devices on their buses that would integrate into their current transportation software.
To help address the need for clean uniforms and clothing, the Browns Foundation partnered with Shoes and Clothes for Kids, Uniforms for Kids and CMSD to provide "Special Teams Packages" for students and families facing uniforms or clothing as a barrier to attendance. Over the course of the next few years, a total of 8,000 packages with uniforms, casual clothes, a shoe gift card, and school supplies were provided to CMSD students. The program was working, and students receiving the packages increased their attendance by 25%.
It was alongside the CMSD team that the Browns Foundation developed a passion for the attendance mission, and after a strategic planning process, determined that the team could play a unique leadership role in increasing student attendance, and narrowed the focus of the Browns Foundation to go all in on student attendance. When the Cleveland Browns first agreed to partner with CMSD to support their attendance campaign, they had no idea that attendance would become their foundation's singular mission!
Launched in 2019, the Stay in the Game! Network is a statewide campaign created to promote and support attendance in Ohio schools. Leading partners include the Cleveland Browns Foundation, Columbus Crew, Ohio Department of Education and Proving Ground out of Harvard University. Together, they are committed to encouraging students to keep learning, every day.
Stay in the Game! Partners with school districts to create data-informed attendance campaigns to break down barriers that keep students from regularly attending school. For students in Ohio, chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10% percent of enrollment days in a school year, which breaks down to missing just two days each month. Ohio's current rate of chronic absenteeism is 26.6%.
Data shows that student attendance is a significant indicator of academic success. Students who are not chronically absent are 6.7 times more likely to read at grade level by third grade 9 times more likely to graduate high school on time than their chronically absent peers. Regularly attending school also has positive social emotional learning outcomes and provides students with access to additional support and resources.
Incentives from the Browns and Crew such as personalized postcards, video messages, classroom visits from players and mascots and community improvement projects like turf field installments are incorporated into district attendance plans to get students excited about attending school and learning.
Student recognition is also given throughout the school year to commend students for their commitment to good attendance. In the past, these rewards have ranged from meals from the Arby’s Foundation to recreational “Stay in the Game” rooms, equipped with games and educational resources.
"The Stay in the Game! attendance campaign has provided opportunities in our district to highlight and focus on attendance in a fun and engaging way. Our students know that when we say to 'Stay in the Game!' that means to come to school and 'Stay in the Game!' while they are here," said Garfield Heights City Schools Family Supervisor of Pupil Services, Gina Wilson.
Since 2015, the Cleveland Browns Foundation has invested over $2.5 million in 42 Ohio school districts to support student attendance including nearly $750,000 to support attendance interventions within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Nearly 235,000 students have been positively impacted through the Stay in the Game! Network's programming, resources and interventions.
By 2030, the Network aims to have 90% of all Ohio students attending school more than 90% of the time. To learn more or get your school district involved with Stay in the Game!, visit stayinthegame.org.
Stay in the Game! Through the Years:
- 2015: The Cleveland Browns Foundation provides funding for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's 2015 Get 2 School, You Can Make It! campaign, which resulted in 4,100 more students with on-track attendance.
- 2018: Browns partner with the Ohio Department of Education and Proving Ground out of Harvard University to launch Get 2 School, Stay in the Game! Network with the goal of decreasing chronic absenteeism in Ohio by 50%.
- 2020: The campaign name transitions to Stay in the Game! Network to accommodate remote learning during the pandemic. Funding is used to close the digital divide between districts to keep students learning despite being remote.
- East Cleveland City Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, and other districts collectively receive $350,000 [from the Cleveland Browns Foundation?] to cover 325 Chromebooks, improved Internet bandwidth, Internet hotspots and Dolby Voice Room Kits for teachers.
- Akron Public Schools receive $100,000 through Arby’s Foundation.
- 2022: Columbus Crew joins Stay in the Game! Network, along with the Columbus City Schools District.
- Present: For the 2023-24 school year, the Network will partner with 42 districts across Ohio to positively impact more than 235,000 students.
- Present: Stay in the Game! Network shortlisted for Community Award at 2023 international Leaders Sports Awards.
- Present: The state of Ohio report card data is released, and shows that Stay in the Game! Network districts saw a larger decrease in chronic absenteeism (-5.2%) than the state of Ohio (-3.4%) more broadly