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My time in education forever impacted the way I see the world. This is why when I began making a fictional film about college reunions, I couldn’t help reflecting on the real-life challenges in education that impede students, particularly Black students, from attending and graduating from college.

In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, I wrote a movie. The title is “College Reunion,” and I wrote on the subject because I was a year away from my own 20-year reunion at an HBCU, and the topic provided a unique opportunity to uplift Black women and spotlight Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The main three Black women characters in the film are attending their 45th reunion, which puts them in their mid-60s. This is a demographic group that has been largely missing from mainstream movies.

As I began working on getting the film made, I thought more and more about another group that has been largely neglected: Black students in kindergarten through 12th grade have been dramatically left behind within our current educational system. The pandemic made things worse.

Chronic absenteeism has been a challenge for years in inner city schools. When schools closed their doors and went to remote learning, many students, especially those without reliable internet access, disappeared. When school doors reopened, many students simply did not return, or came back on an inconsistent basis. Hundreds of thousands of students are still unaccounted for three years into the pandemic. Of that number, more than 150,000 are Californians.

The numbers in California are especially staggering because Los Angeles is also home to the entertainment industry, where many of our country’s most influential stars work or live. In a city built on dreams, there is a stark contrast between the world we portray on screen and the reality within our school system.

Related: Thousands of kids are missing from school. Where did they go?

Before I began working on this film, I was a writer by night and an educator by day. I moved to Los Angeles to make movies and took what I thought would be a two-year detour into the classroom through Teach For America.

The organization recruits individuals, many of whom are recent college graduates, to teach for a minimum of two years in schools deeply affected by educational inequities. The thinking is that the new teachers will be so impacted by their experiences that they will use their newfound knowledge to become change agents for the educational system.

That is exactly what happened to me.

As I began working on this film about successful Black men and women returning to their college alma mater, the data from students currently in K-12 indicated that, without an intervention, college reunions would have fewer Black attendees in the future.

As I began working on this film about successful Black men and women returning to their college alma mater, the data from students currently in K-12 indicated that, without an intervention, college reunions would have fewer Black attendees in the future.

The team of independent filmmakers and educators we assembled to work on “College Reunion”believe that entertainers and educators are in a unique position to use our social capital and knowledge of the problem to call students who have been chronically absent back to school.

A small group consisting of our film crew and volunteers from the entertainment community tested our theory last month. We recorded a video telethon with the express purposes of highlighting both the issue of chronic absenteeism and the nonprofits who are supporting schools, while challenging viewers to call students in their communities back to school.

While the video livestreamed on Facebook, we called chronically absent students from one school and implored them to return to campus the following week.

Our efforts resulted in 27 percent of those students returning to school for at least one day. It was a start, but we need to and can do more.

If the hundreds of thousands of students who are entirely or partially disengaged from school do not return, the consequences will be far reaching for our country as a whole.Students who do not complete K-12 education have limited options as they reach adulthood.

As technology continues to phase out some jobs and the economy erases others, we run the risk of having a generation of students who don’t possess the basic educational skills needed to pursue job and career opportunities. This will exacerbate issues such as housing instability and unused potential.

The Black community has traditionally experienced these negative consequences at a disproportionately high rate.

Each of us has the power to do something about this problem today.If you are an educator at a K-12 institution, work with your school community to identify students who are still unaccounted for and use some of the suggestions on the “College Reunion” website to support students reentering their educational journey. If you are a person of influence, use your social media platforms and other means to remind the masses why education is crucial and why students should be in school. We can all learn more about our local school systems and find ways within our communities to support students on their educational journey.

Chronic absenteeism is a village-level problem that will take a collective approach to solve. If we all work together to call students back to the classroom, “College Reunion”can one day become a reality for our most vulnerable children, and we can literally change the world.

Carla M. McCullough, Ed.D., is a filmmaker, educational leader and the CEO of A Mighty Mac Productions. You can learn more about “College Reunion” the movie and the movement at

This story about chronic absenteeism was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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