In front of PJ Hill School on East State St, a group of students celebrated their perfect attendance as they looked onto the billboard that highlighted them in the Trenton community. 

The billboard was created by Heal The City, a non-profit focused on helping the youth of Trenton. Stacy Heading, Director of Heal The City and the Heal The City staff, have worked with designated Trenton schools to design Attendance Matters Billboards. 

Heal The City focuses on advocating for youth and education. They have used billboards, billboard unveiling events, movie events, plays and school and community collaborations to accomplish our mission. By sponsoring the Positive Billboard Campaign, Special Event Film Showings and Cultural Events, the initiative strives to empower the youth and residents of Trenton and inspire them to give back and help to build a vibrant community with a bright future.

“We want to highlight these students that go to the school right here,” Heading said. While preparing for the billboards, which included the photoshoot, students were encouraged to share the strategies they used to get to school every day and what they do to accomplish academic success. 

“That’s why you have these quotes like attendance matters, because the less you come to school, the less you learn and achieve. So they do realize and recognize that the more they come to school, the more they have a chance to do better in test and their studies, and be a better student,” Heading said. 

The five students all attend PJ Hill School, and all have perfect attendance at the school. Talaya Wilson, Principal of PJ Hill School, was excited to celebrate their success. 

“It is very exciting that they’re celebrated for their attendance. They’re all excellent students and for them to be recognized and publicly celebrated is really awesome. And I think that their parents and their colleagues and all of those absolutely would agree,” said Wilson. She explained that attendance is critical to a student’s success. “The more they come to school, the more they learn. “When they miss school, there’s so much that they miss, it is very, very hard to catch up. So the more that they’re in school, the better their chances of being successful students throughout the year,” Wilson said. 

Though for some students, it may be challenging due to various reasons. Denise Kreiss, the parent coordinator and homeless liaison for the entire school district who partnered with Heal With The City explained chronic absenteeism is higher than usual due to COVID-19. Still, there are efforts from organizations in Trenton to bridge the gap. 

She explained that this is just one way to foster a supportive community for children and teens. “It’s a visual display for the entire community to say that we see our children, we value our children, because these are quotes from the students.,” Kreiss said. “So this is  their feedback that they’re sharing, they’re opening their hearts and we want to be able to provide a visual in their neighborhood…As to why this project is so important. Why attendance matters.”

For Karollann Antoine, a fourth-grader at PJ Hill School, it is a proud moment to see her and her fellow students featured on the billboard. “I am very proud of myself and happy to see that my family is very proud of me.”

There are billboards for school districts across Trenton. The Joyce Kilmer Billboards are located on Perry St. and Route 1 (next to Ninth Grade Academy) and Willow and Passaic Street (overtop of Firestone Tires). The Hedgepeth Williams billboard is located on Chambers and Ashmore Street (one block before Chambers and Liberty Street).