By Nadira Foster Williams & Alex Ellefson

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday announced a major effort to reduce truancy in city schools in a program that matches students with individual mentors hand-picked by the students themselves.

The new center in West Harlem, founded in conjunction with the Police Athletic League, resulted from the work of a three-year-old mayoral task force focused on preventing “chronic absenteeism” among at-risk youths in an effort to increase graduation rates while reducing arrests of young offenders.

“In order to keep kids out of the courtroom, we need to keep them in the classroom,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said at a press conference a PAL center.

Bloomberg described the program as “the largest of its kind in the nation.”

Students who participated in the Task Force’s Success Mentor Program were 52 percent more likely to stay in school and the NYC Success Mentor Corps reached 8,000 students last year, said a mayoral press release.

The task force also launched a $5 million dollar ad campaign, sponsored by the Ad Council and AT&T, aimed at encouraging parents to make sure their children are not skipping school.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that the  efforts have reduced crime. He noted that during the 2012-2013 school year, public schools reported the lowest number of crimes since before Bloomberg took office.

“The opening of this Engagement Center is the next step in ensuring our children are provided with the support they need to stay in school and off the streets – for their safety and their academic futures,” Bloomberg said.

Parents with children enrolled at the new Engagement Center will be trained how to monitor their student’s attendance online while the center’s staff will have access to data allowing them to track the student’s progress.

Students volunteer to participate in the program.

When asked why a student would choose to stay enrolled at the new center, Task Force Chairwoman Leslie Cornfeld responded: “If you come here on a weekend, the gym is filled and the children recognize the opportunities here.”