SALT LAKE CITY -- Call him a tracker or attendance hunter. A man at Cottonwood High School is changing lives by keeping on top of students who are often late or absent from class.
Ryan Willis recently went over weekly goals with one student in his small office, telling her to keep it up and not to mess up.
Sometimes I have to be stern and say, ‘Hey, you're messing up.'
"A lot of them think I'm a bad guy or don't like me very much. But the ones that it clicks and they get it, they understand that I am just trying to help," he said.
He is so dedicated to his job as attendance hunter, he sometimes goes to students' homes to see why they are not in school.
"Sometimes I have to be stern and say, ‘Hey, you're messing up,'" he said.
Willis wears several hats at Cottonwood High, teaching a sports medicine class and coaching boys' soccer. But he says attendance is the No. 1 step to being successful in school.
"If kids are not in school, they are not going to pass their classes. If they don't pass their classes they aren't going to graduate. Step one: attendance," he explained.
He also works with parents, speaking fluent Spanish with those who need it, to make sure they are on board with their student's success. Willis thinks every school could benefit from a similar program.
"Since we've implemented it, (we've had) huge changes. So many students have graduated, so many have changed their lives," he said.
Pictures on his wall show students in caps and gowns that may have been given up on before, or close to dropping out of school. They come back to thank him for the help, which he says makes all his hard work worth it.