The District began an initiative Thursday to clamp down on the 20 percent of District students who are "chronically truant," skipping class at least 15 times each year.

An advertising campaign -- dubbed "The More You Learn, The More You Earn" -- features students from D.C. Public Schools' Anacostia, Ballou and Cardozo senior high schools, as well as Paul Public Charter School, sharing how they stopped missing class and shored up failing grades.

D.C. officials have been struggling to stem truancy for years, noting that other school reforms can't be effective if kids don't show up to class. Most recently, a task force of six D.C. government agencies began tracking 120 high school freshmen who were on the verge of becoming "chronic truants," in an attempt to figure out, then curb, their motivations for cutting school. So far, no reports have come since the May kickoff.

While targeted at middle and high school students and parents, the ad campaign seems to reflect a more external approach to engage the community as truancy watchdogs. Ads will run on the radio and on Metro transit, with posters and educational materials distributed to schools and libraries, as well as local businesses and nonprofits.

Mayor Vincent Gray said the spots will "start a much-needed conversation about truancy and school attendance around the dinner table, in houses of worship, at the barbershop and in other places in our community."

Officials estimate that one of every five District students is chronically truant. DCPS refers students to D.C. Superior Court after 25 unexcused absences.

Jeff Smith, executive director of the nonprofit DC Voice, told the D.C. Council last week that some students are late or absent from class because they don't feel safe walking to school.

"Sometimes we don't feel comfortable parking our own cars, or going with our own families, to these areas, and we're sending young people, very young people, into gang-infested territories, drug-infested territories, places where people are advertising and soliciting," Smith said.