April 13, 2010 | Daytona Beach News Journal | Original Article

Census 2010: taking it to the schools

Quinton Lamar was sure his parents had returned their census form, but he had an idea for how classmates could motivate their families if they'd been slacking.

"You could tell them, 'You're going to be grounded.' "


Palm Terrace
Elementary School pupil

"You could tell them, 'You're going to be grounded,' " the 11-year-old said sternly.

It was as good a lesson as any to take away from the Census In Schools program held at Quinton's Palm Terrace Elementary School in Daytona Beach. The U.S. Census Bureau will hold outreach programs at only five schools in Florida, and two of them were in Volusia County on Monday, the one at Palm Terrace and another at Pierson Elementary.

The educational program crackled with the energy of a church revival, with children standing, clapping and singing along with charismatic census "preachers," including a school official with a love of songwriting, Mainland High School's drum corps and even a Sesame Street character with a, uh, thirst for statistics, Count von Count.

"We're here because you count," Principal John Cash told the audience of mostly third- and fourth-graders, encouraging them to take the message home to their households.

The first census in 1790 counted 3.9 million Americans in just 13 states, he told the kids. This year's effort is expected to reach 300 million -- but only if everybody gets counted.

He gave the floor to a census official from Washington who led the children in a chant.

"You've got to know today: Did they (parents) complete that questionnaire and put it in the mail?" she said. "After they fill it out, what are they going to do?"

"Put it in the mail," the children shouted.

It's a message that apparently hasn't gotten to about one in three Volusia households. The census department reported Volusia's participation rate at 68 percent Monday, ahead of the statewide average of 65 percent but trailing Flagler (73 percent) and state leader Monroe County (95 percent). Volusia's percentage already surpasses its mark from 2000.

The Constitution requires a census every 10 years to count the population and determine the number of seats each state will have in the House of Representatives. But, like a TV game show with big prizes, the emphasis for the kids was on the windfall communities can receive when they're fully counted.

That inspired Stan Whitted, the assistant superintendent for the area, to write a song he performed with the children and members of the drum corps. ("Don't drown me out," he told the drummers with a chuckle.)

Together they sang, "The census makes cents," an allusion to the $400 billion allocated to communities every year from the federal government based in part on census data.

The message struck home for fifth-grader Zina Clark. "You get less money (if you're not counted), and it helps the community if you get the money."

Plus, it's better than being grounded.