Free cars: Yet another reason to stay in school |

Free cars: Yet another reason to stay in school

South Tahoe High School student Jessica Honeycutt jumps with joy after her key unlocked the door to a new truck on Tuesday. / Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Before school Tuesday morning, sophomore Jessica Honeycutt casually told her mother she might win a free car.

Hours later Honeycutt screamed into her cell phone to mom that she just won a 2006 Toyota Tacoma.

It wasn’t a bad day for a teenager who plans to get her driver’s license in October.

The grand prize for one lucky South Tahoe High School student with good attendance sat on the football field during an afternoon assembly marking the culmination of an attendance incentive program.

Honeycutt was one of 10 students who were randomly selected from a pool of 15 on the football field in front of thousands of watching eyes, hundreds of onlookers and a television news crew.

Four students had their names pulled but, ironically, were not at the assembly. Unfortunately, the last student selected was a freshman. Boos and voiced threats from upperclassmen were showered upon the young teenager as he made his way to the field.

“We’re providing police protection if a freshman wins,” teacher Bob Grant said.

Each of the two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and one freshman selected a key. Nine keys were phonies. One was the winner.

Junior Eric Hamdan was the first name announced by Grant and the first to try his key.

Honeycutt, the second in line, was next.

“I heard it click and I knew it was my truck,” she said.

A torrent of screams followed. Honeycutt jumped up and down. One celebration involved her seemingly running in place. She called her mother. She bearhugged her friends. She was interviewed by a television news reporter then asked if she could climb into the truck with friends.

“It’s awesome,” said Eileen Honeycutt, Jessica’s mother. “I thought she was joking. I asked her if it was April Fools’ (Day). I heard all the girls in the background screaming and yelling so I figured it was the truth.”

The truck is from Shehadi Motors but Honeycutt will have her pick of several models in the $18,000 range. The funds for the truck were from the Save South Tahoe Athletic Teams organization. Mark Garratt of STAT envisioned the grand prize of a car as an ongoing event.

Everything but insurance will be paid for and Mark Shehadi told her she could get an automatic model but would have to pay the difference. Shehadi offered teaching her stick, ensuring it would only take eight minutes.

“It was fun to see the kids excited,” Shehadi said. “I think school spirit needs to be enhanced.”

To be eligible for selection, a student had to have more than 80 percent attendance through the school year, a minimum 2.0 grade-point average and no discipline problems. One week of perfect attendance earned a ticket for the drawing.

Honeycutt had a 97 percent attendance rate.

“I’ve always gone to school that much,” she said.

Overall, the high school’s attendance rate improved by 1 percent, meaning the district, and the school, will benefit from additional state funds. A program laced with incentives, from bikes to food vouchers and iPods, was ushered into this school year to boost sluggish attendance numbers at all Lake Tahoe Unified School District schools.

Associate Principal Jack Stafford thinks next year will bring improved attendance numbers since students know the incentives, and the possibility of winning a car, are a reality.

“I really believe next year we’ll hit the ground running with this,” he said.

Eileen Honeycutt said she planned to give her husband’s 1991 Jeep to Jessica when the teenager received her license. She said the family would go out to dinner if the truck was picked up Tuesday.

The giddiness continued at the football field after the bleachers cleared of students. Freshman Jenny Stelly, who said she is Honeycutt’s best friend, had enough of her voice left to call her mother as she walked from the field.

“I’m so happy mom,” she said. “She said she’s giving me rides to school tomorrow. Well, not tomorrow, but next year.”

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