09/22/2011 03:40 pm ET Updated 5 days ago

Denzel Washington, Ron Howard Launch Boys And Girls Club PSA, Talk High School Dropout Rate

Academy Award-winning film director Ron Howard, basketball star LeBron James, musical artist Ashanti and Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington were in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to relay their message to at-risk youth: the importance of school. This is part of a national movement to bring awareness to the issue through high-profile celebrity attention.

In the first of an 18-month PBS series on America's high school dropouts, PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill talked to Washington about his work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

"Fundamentally, we are failing our kids," Washington says. "It is not their fault. It is the -- if there is fault to be -- it's the fault of the adults."

The actor discusses the club's work to keep kids in school, but emphasizes that parents are a critical part of emphasizing education and high school graduation.

"I mean, fundamentally, it's parenting," Washington tells Ifill. " My mother said that your biggest influence your children will be in their first five years, because, in those days, it was five years, because once you went to kindergarten, once you started going to school, you were influenced by others. So it starts in the home."

The gathering comes with the launch of a new Boys And Girls Club public service announcement, "Great Futures Start Here," directed by Howard, that addresses childhood obesity and youth violence in addition to the high school dropout rate.

Of the 3.8 million students that started high school this year, a quarter won't receive a diploma. According to an NPR series that aired this summer, high school dropouts cost taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs, among others.

Dropouts are not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in our economy, and a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in the U.S., contributing to a rising unemployment rate. Those who don't carry high school diplomas will also earn $200,000 less over their lifetime than those who do.

Watch the PBS NewsHour report above and the PSA video below.