Archdeacon: Dayton basketball stars lead an attendance drive for area students

They’ve both done a lot of things while representing the Dayton Flyers.

DaRon Holmes II and Destiny Bohanon have been the most popular, most accomplished, and most counted on players on their respective UD basketball teams.

The 6-foot-10 Holmes was the leading scorer and co-Most Valuable Player of the men’s team last season; and the 5-10 Bohanon was the leading scorer and MVP of the women’s team.

Both are said to be earnest and engaged in the classroom and both represent their teams on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee that serves as a voice and resource for all athletes on campus.

Yet, nothing either has done will likely have more overall meaning and impact in the community — as well as off-the-court exposure — than the much-trumpeted campaign they’re helping launch today in the Dayton area.

Soon you will be seeing them on billboards and maybe on RTA buses, too. They’ll be featured on radio spots, appear in PSA ads, and be highlighted on various social media platforms.

“Yeah, you’ll see us everywhere,” Bohanon said with a laugh as she sat alongside Holmes in the Frericks Center during a break between classes the other day.

The pair will be the public faces of a promising collaboration between Learn to Earn Dayton, the non-profit organization dedicated to helping Dayton-area children succeed in school and life, and Dayton 6th, the independent, non-profit organization that works to promote, guide, and protect UD athletes when it comes to Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) opportunities.

Today, Learn to Earn Dayton is unveiling its new initiative to combat chronic absenteeism, which, in alarming numbers, is plaguing local schools and permanently damaging the futures of many of the students.

The campaign not only uses Holmes and Bohanon as spokespersons and shining examples of athletes who excel in the classroom and on the court, but the hope is that they turn into a pair of Pied Pipers who lead absent schoolkids back to their classrooms.

Since schools reopened after the COVID pandemic, students across the nation have been absent in record numbers.

According to the most recent data from the Ohio Department of Education, 29.6 percent of students attending public school districts in Montgomery County are chronically absent.

Chronic absenteeism means a student misses at least 10 percent of the school days each year.

The six most economically distressed districts in the area have a staggering 42.1 percent of their students chronically absent. That number is an average for kids from kindergarten through 12th grade. High school absenteeism is the highest and freshmen top the list with 54.6 percent chronically absent.

When students skip school, they not only have significant learning setbacks, but they also miss out, as the Associated Press recently reported, on things like meals, counseling, and socialization.

“Chronic absenteeism starts a domino effect for students,” said Stacy Schweikhart, the CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton.

She noted studies that show young students who are chronically absent are 65 percent less likely to meet the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and that “by end of sixth grade, you can predict, based on absenteeism, whether a student will graduate from high school.”

Chronically absent students are 89 percent less likely to graduate on time.

Schweikhart said “the broad goal — the mission of Learn to Earn — is to improve student outcomes for all students in Montgomery County so that ultimately we have a workforce with the credentials and college degrees to earn a living wage.”

Matt Farrell – the founder of Dayton 6th who was on the staff of former UD coach Brian Gregory and is now the entrepreneur in residence at the Entrepreneurs’ Center and the COO of Niobium Microsystems, a microelectronics and silicone design company — is as passionate at Schweikhart when it comes to reversing the rampant absenteeism in schools.

“The data is scary,” he said. “The goal here is work force development. It’s about growing the economic side of the community. It’s tied to hitting the Third Grade Reading Guarantees and graduating from high school, and it all starts by simply showing up at school every day.”

Chronic absenteeism is not new, but thanks to the concerted efforts by various groups, a dent was being made in the rates before COVID hit.

But the pandemic broke the daily school routines and now there’s skewered thinking among some students — and some parents of youngsters who depend on their mom and dad for guidance and transportation — that being in class doesn’t matter.

There are myriad reasons for staying home — including transportation issues, poverty, housing instability, illness, anxiety, depression, bullying – so attempting to reverse that trend is no easy task.

Old corrective methods of dealing with absenteeism — detentions, suspensions — hurt more than help.

According to the Washington Post, schools around the country have tried everything from making classes more relevant to all backgrounds to including one period of fun — anything from sports to crafting — during a school day to providing free breakfast or even laundry service for kids who are worried about coming to school in dirty clothes.

Although the attendance and engagement campaign here is just beginning and some ideas are still being developed, Farrell said he sees Holmes and Bohanon connecting with students in a variety of ways, including “appearances, autographs and other incentives.”

Schweikart said it was important to unveil the program this weekend:

“September is Attendance Awareness Month nationally, so we wanted to connect the launch to that national emphasis.

“And absenteeism at the start of the school is actually a great predictor of what will happen the rest of the school year.”

‘We need everyone’

The Learn to Earn/Dayton 6th partnership developed out of a chance conversation between Schweikart and Farrell.

“This is one of those things that happens in Dayton because of the spirit of collaboration here and the willingness to work together,” Schweikart said. “Our team hard already started working toward some type of a campaign — we usually do a lot of place-targeted work in areas where discrepancies and gaps in student outcomes are the greatest — but then I ran into Matt.

“We’ve worked together and known each other for years and we’ve collaborated on all different kinds of things.

“I happened to ask him how Dayton 6th was going. It was shortly after DaRon had made the exciting decision to stay here (rather than go to the NBA.)

“Matt talked to me about some of the things he wanted to do through Dayton 6th in the coming year and one was a partnership with a non-profit for something that would benefit the entire community.

“That’s how it started.”

She said they had a common relationship with an organization that “wanted to anonymously fund something for a great and important purpose in the community” and that entity liked the idea of using UD basketball players through an NIL deal.

Schweikhart and Farrell worked together to accrue an additional investment from Montgomery County and Farrell said Dayton 6th added some funding, as well.

They’re now in discussion with other partners to join in and make this an ongoing project.

“Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than one year to change the trend on this,” Schweikart said. “It’s going to take all of us — the business community, the educational community, the non-profit community — to turn this around. And we need churches and their congregations sharing the word. We need everyone.”

Their biggest get though was convincing Holmes and Bohanon to lead their initiative.

“We are grateful to Destiny and DaRon for lending their voices and being the message bearers on this critical campaign,” Schweikart said, “They are great role models.”

Farrell agreed” “They are great representatives of the university. When we started brainstorming about this campaign, I spent time with Beth Flach (Director of Athletic Academic Support at UD). She oversees all the athletes, and she raved about Destiny and DaRon.

“Not only do they show up every single day of class, but they’re also as engaged as any student athletes we’ve had in the last 20 years.”

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve talked to their parents. Both come from supportive families who value education, believe in living up to your commitments and stressed to their kids to treat others with respect.

“Destiny is a local product (Huber Heights/ Wayne High School) and she has a compelling story,” Farrell said. “And DaRon is probably the most recognizable voice and most recognizable face in the community right now when it comes to celebratory status.”

Holmes is a study in loyalty.

The highest ranked recruit ever to sign with Dayton — in 2021 he was rated No. 39 in the nation by 247Sports — Homes was recruited by many of college basketball’s best programs, including Kansas, Arizona, Tennessee, USC, Virginia, UCLA, and Marquette.

He chose Dayton.

While starring here for two seasons, he turned down overtures from Power 5 schools who used the lure of greater NIL dollars and more fame to get him to transfer. And after dipping his toes in the NBA waters last spring, he returned to UD for his junior season.

Bohanon is a testament to hard work and never giving up.

A promising talent in high school, she suffered an ACL tear as a junior that she said caused some colleges to drop their interest in her. Undaunted, she returned for her senior year and was the MVP of her team.

She signed with UD, but promptly underwent two more surgeries — for a torn meniscus and another ACL tear — and took a medical redshirt that first season.

She rejoined a talent-laden team and spent two seasons languishing on the bench. When Shauna Green left for Illinois before last season, the roster was decimated. Five players graduated and five more transferred.

Bohanon had chances to go elsewhere, too, but like Holmes, she is loyal. And her dad Robert told me she wanted to get her degree from UD.

Last season she was the star of Tamika Williams-Jeter’s short-handed team. At times hobbled from old injuries and then dealing with a new one — which cost her six games — she played almost every minute of every other contest.

She got her degree and now, as a redshirt senior, is working toward her MBA.

With the stay-in-school campaign she said she’ll stress showing up every day and never quitting. That paid off for her.

Holmes is one of the most personable students on campus and that’s opened doors for him wherever he goes, whether it was making an impression in NBA interviews this summer or in his associations with teachers, coaches, and the NIL people of the business world he meets now.

While both Bohanon and Holmes will receive some NIL compensation for their involvement in the Learn to Earn Dayton campaign, they both said it’s not about financial gain for them.

“There’s a bigger picture here, it’s not about the money,” Bohanon said. “I’m a local kid. I’m from Montgomery County. It’s big for me to have a voice —to use my platform ― to stress the importance of going to school and how that allows you to get to where you want to go in life.”

‘They were beyond impressive’

To prepare for the campaign launch, Holmes and Bohanon were brought to DECA Prep last week for a photo and video shoot with students.

“I got to see Destiny and DaRon interact with the students,” Schweikart said. “When we started the discussion with Dayton 6th, we thought that our students across the region would relate to Destiny and DaRon in an incredible way, but this was beyond what I imagined.

“They were beyond impressive. Beyond what we were trying to create. They took time to talk to the students about showing up every day – how every day matters – and about giving your all. They shared not just who they are as athletes, but who they are as students.

“We couldn’t have asked for better spokespersons. And it was great proof of doing things the Dayton way.”

That point showed itself to the fullest in an unscripted exchange after the photo and shoot was done and Holmes — his duties completed — was preparing to leave.

“We had had a specific classroom we’d been working with, but just as we were ending, another teacher from a different class came down the hall toward DaRon,” Schweikhart said. “He said, ‘I lead a special needs class and my students have seen you. Is there any way you’d consider coming in to say ‘Hi’ to them? They are really excited about you being here.’

“I looked at DaRon —he’d already given us more than we had asked of him —and I said, ‘It’s up to you.’

“He said yes and went to the room and greeted each and every student in the room individually and took time to ask: ‘What are you reading? What are working on? What’s your favorite subject?’

“That, to me, was such an example of his character and who he is.

“And Destiny is the same way. She’s an incredible student, a wonderful role model. She’s just an amazing choice for this campaign.

“The more I’m around both of them, the more I know how fortunate we are to have them in our campaign.”

But the students in the region are the luckiest of all.

They now have a pair of Pied Pipers who want to lead them back to the classroom and on to a better life once they graduate.

About the Author