A deal is a deal.
Young Woods Elementary School upheld its end of a bargain made last fall, so Cole Strange and the New England Patriots returned to Providence on Wednesday to reward those with perfect attendance through the first half of the school year.
"There's a lot of hard work that the kids put in themselves, not just so that they could see one of us from the team come back, but if that's a little incentive, it's really cool that we're able to help them along with that," Strange said. "It's a really big deal that so many of them have had perfect attendance this whole time. That's a really great thing."
Back in September, the Patriots Foundation and cornerback Jalen Mills had their first visit to Young Woods, hosting a pep rally to encourage kids to show up to school every day. Mills and two cheerleaders answered questions in the gymnasium, and challenged the elementary schoolers to improve their attendance.
No days off, so to speak. Since then, around 200 students have bought in and maintained perfect attendance to this point in the year.
"Last year at this time, we were at about 78% student attendance every day, which was extremely low," said Dr. Jackson Reilly, principal at Young Woods.
"I had just started here in January and one of our big initiatives was to get students to come to school every day. So when (the Patriots) reached out and Jalen came in September, and now here with Cole today, we're happy to say we're up to 92% attendance every day. We are doing 14% Better year-over-year, and that's kind of leaked into everything. We do a fantastic morning enrichment program and we have 100 kids that come for an extra hour, twice a week, and they want to be here."
Dr. Reilly reiterated how much the pep rally inspired not just the students, but their families, too.
"It just means so much to this community," the principal said. "We're an urban school. We have fantastic kids, and even to see the families show up today, they really, really appreciate all the support we're getting."
While students enjoyed a celebratory breakfast in their cafeteria, decorated with hand-made signs welcoming the Patriots back, Strange spoke of how his dad instilled the importance of showing up every day. That mentality has helped him accomplish his dreams.
"I had perfect attendance because my dad was just not having anything else," Strange said. "But the Patriots are the same way."
Before the end of the breakfast, in-game announcer Mike Riley and Cole Strange offered another proposition: if students keep it up through the rest of the school year, the Patriots will return in June.
"That's what our kids need to see," Dr. Reilly said. "It's looking up to these people that they see on TV all the time, they follow on Instagram, and when they're hearing 'Hey, I'm proud of you,' these kids feel seen. A little girl just walked out and said this is a day she's never gonna forget. How cool is that?"