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With growing efforts to improve attendance in Ohio, Stay in the Game! Attendance Network adds Battelle as Network host

The Cleveland Browns Foundation first launched the Network in 2019

SITG and Battelle Feature

At the start of the 2022-23 school year, the Stay in the Game! Attendance Network (SITG!) had partnered with 17 school districts in Ohio. By the end of the 2023-24 school year, that number more than tripled the number of participating school districts to 57 and will increase again heading into the 2024-25 school year.

With the exponential growth and a dedication to maintaining quality of support for each district, SITG! founding partners the Cleveland Browns Foundation, Ohio Department of Education and Workforce and Proving Ground out of Harvard made the decision to seek a new partner to serve as the operational host.

On May 1, SITG! announced Battelle as the new "Network backbone," hosting SITG! operations.

"The fact that we've been able to build the infrastructure to allow for growth and scalability has been fantastic," Vice President of the Cleveland Browns Foundation Renee Harvey said. "We're very proud it was started here in our own backyard with Cleveland and excited about its growth statewide."

Starting July 1, Battelle will serve as the fiscal agent for the Network, coordinating and facilitating activities and initiatives with partner school districts and sports teams. Currently operated by the Cleveland Browns Foundation, SITG! has grown significantly since the 2019-20 school year and has outgrown the Foundation's ability to house the effort on its own.

Battelle will also provide leadership, support and resources – along with the Browns, Ohio Department of Education and Workforce and Harvard's Proving Ground – to help achieve the Network's goal to have 90 percent of all Ohio students attending school more than 90 percent of the time by 2030.

"We are excited to announce Battelle, a renowned organization in the education space, as our new host for the Stay in the Game! Attendance Network," Managing and Principal Partner of Haslam Sports Group Dee Haslam said. "Alongside our partners, we are dedicated to improving school attendance in school districts throughout Ohio. We are confident that Battelle will be instrumental in helping the Network achieve its goals in Ohio and beyond as we continue to expand."

On May 1, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) also announced a set of cross-sector actions working to eliminate systemic barriers in STEMM. One of those actions is focused on nurturing curiosity in every child and increase access to high-learning quality, with a total of 81 non-federal organizations committing to concrete work and actions aligned. The White House OSTP listed Battelle as one of those organizations.

"Education is the foundation upon which we build our future, and at Battelle, we are committed to ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed," President and CEO of Battelle Lou Von Thaer said. "Our partnership with the Stay in the Game! Attendance Network is a strategic investment to reduce chronic absenteeism and foster a culture of consistent school attendance. Together, we can help students succeed."

During the 2022-23 school year, SITG! districts on average lowered their chronic absenteeism by 5.2 percent, according to the 2022-23 Ohio State Report Card, compared to 3.4 percent as a state. SITG! significantly outperformed the state with 41 percent of SITG! districts lowering chronic absenteeism by 8.5-10.9 percent, exemplifying the positive effect that the SITG! is having on Ohio's students.

In Ohio, students who have never been chronically absent are 6.7 times more likely to read on grade level by the end of third grade and nine times more likely to graduate from high school on time. With Ohio's current rate of chronic absenteeism at 26.8 percent, SITG! has looked for a way to help Ohio families, schools and community partner tackle chronic absenteeism.

The Browns' dedication and focus on education dates back to 2015, when Haslam and Harvey met with former Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon. They wanted to find a way to impact and support CMSD's efforts in addressing absenteeism through community buy-in and support.

At the time, Harvey said Gordon indicated CMSD was preparing to launch an attendance campaign called Get 2 School, You Can Make It! They wanted the campaign to be collaborative among parents and caregivers, educators and the community to rally around their scholars.

After partnering with CMSD for several years on their attendance campaign and better understanding the unique role a sports team can play in improving attendance, the Browns Foundation completed a strategic planning process and determined attendance would be its core focus and would set out to support additional districts.

In August of 2019, the Foundation, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce and Proving Ground out of Harvard University launched Get 2 School, Stay in the Game! Network, with their initial goal of decreasing chronic absenteeism in Ohio by 50 percent.

The name paid homage to its origination with CMSD and altered the tagline to align with a sports theme. In 2020, the campaign name transitioned to Stay in the Game! Attendance Network (SITG!) to accommodate remote learning during the pandemic.

For districts that identify attendance as a priority, SITG! partners to create a data-informed localized attendance campaign aimed at increasing awareness around the importance of attendance and decreasing chronic absenteeism within their communities.

"It's exciting that the majority of growth we're seeing in the Network is coming from district's word of mouth to one another," Harvey said. "To us, this is a signal that the resources and support the Network provides are working and that they're finding value in them, which is our ultimate goal."

To support the districts' attendance campaigns, the Browns provide campaign materials, incentive items and engagement opportunities to complement district strategies. These include giveaway items, video messages, classroom visits from players and mascots and community improvement projects like turf field installments and mini pitch installations, which 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, rewards have ranged from meals from the Arby's Foundation to recreational "Stay in the Game!" rooms, equipped with games and educational resources.

"One of our educators had indicated that Stay in the Game! has actually given them hope when they think about attendance, when it is oftentimes something that is viewed as a negative or a punitive conversation with parents," Harvey said. "But this has really changed that paradigm, so it allows them to have a positive conversation and a way to build a relationship with families."

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