1 of 6
Elaine Thompson, Associated Press
FOR RELEASE SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2012, AT 12:01 A.M. PST - In this photo taken Jan. 11, 2012, principal Mia Willaims hurries students toward class at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle. Students used to have a lot of excuses for why they missed school or showed up late at the urban school, but are being heard much less frequently now. Staff members call the homes of children who don't show up, teachers make home visits with police officers and a school-based social worker helps families.

SEATTLE — Students used to have a lot of really good excuses for why they missed school or showed up late to Aki Kurose Middle School. A parent's car had mechanical problems. They had to stay home to take care of a younger sibling. They overslept.

Now those excuses are being heard less frequently. The students have improved their attendance enough to win a national contest and soon will get their prize: A visit from a surprise hip hop artist, who will be principal for the day and entertain kids at an all-school assembly.

Last week's winter storm postponed the special event to celebrate their success in the Fall Attendance Challenge sponsored by national nonprofit Get Schooled. But the staff at Aki Kurose continues to celebrate the ways better attendance has improved learning at the school.