Go to school, win a prize: LTUSD tries to entice more students into going to class | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Go to school, win a prize: LTUSD tries to entice more students into going to class

William Ferchland

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A new Toyota will be awarded to one South Tahoe High School student at the end of the school year based on their attendance.

A few generations ago the incentive was avoiding verbal lashings from parents. Now it’s iPods and gas cards.

An award-laced program to boost attendance – and subsequent state revenue – in Lake Tahoe Unified School District is in full-swing with donated prizes such as ski lift tickets and all-day passes for elementary students to Area 51, a laser tag arena.

At South Lake Tahoe High School, which had one of the lowest attendance rates in the district, the grand prize was parked on the campus in front of the teachers’ lounge. Students huddled around the backside of a Toyota Matrix, one of a handful of Toyota cars from Shehadi Motors available for one winning student to choose from at the end of the year.

The price range of the vehicles is around $18,000. Money to pay for the vehicle will come from Support South Tahoe Athletic Teams, a fundraising group of parents and others that generated cash last year to pay for school athletics. The district is not using any money from its general fund to pay for the program’s prizes.

Based on monthly attendance numbers, students are motivated.

South Tahoe Senior Melissa Gochnauer said she now rushes to school to avoid being late. Students receive one raffle ticket for a full week of attendance. Perfect attendance for four weeks doubles the number to eight tickets. Tickets are then pulled for prizes.

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Raffle tickets are not given to students who cut class, are late to class or are absent from school. Exceptions are school activities, bereavement and court dates.

“It’s better than the lottery,” said Principal Marcia Kaster, referring to the odds of winning.

Weekly drawings are held Wednesdays at the high school for gift certificates. Semester drawings have more expensive items such as iPods, the yearbook cost of $60 waived and prom photo packages.

Those who win weekly or semester drawings will still be in the ticket pool to win the vehicle. Ten tickets will be pulled at the end of the school year.

Names will be checked. Those who are eligible to win a car must have a 2.0 grade-point average or higher and must not have received a failing grade and unsatisfactory citizenship mark from a teacher. Keys will be given to the 10 students at the football field.

The one whose key starts the car is the winner.

“I want a new car,” said Gochnauer, who referred to her car as a “little, broken” Kia.

“I think it’s something high school kids would want to get,” said senior Tim Powers.

“I would say everyone has a fair chance to win the car,” sophomore William Ross said.

South Tahoe Middle School has a similar incentive program. The grand prize is a laptop computer.

The incentive program was the brainchild of Superintendent James Tarwater who considered the 92.7 percent attendance rate last school to be dismal. The 92.7 percent equates to each student in the district missing 13 days of school.

Since each percentage point increase equals an extra $200,000 in state funds, Tarwater wanted treats to be used as an incentive to attend school.

The district’s goal is to have attendance levels climb to the state average of 97 percent. Each school that raises its attendance level will receive half of the state funds it generated to use at its discretion.

South Tahoe High School alum Mark Shehadi of Shehadi Motors noticed a buzz when he was on campus Wednesday.

“The campus today was totally excited,” he said. “It was fun to see.”

Shehadi said teachers jokingly asked him if they could participate.

Many adults just chuckled when referring to the days when they went to school and were motivated to attend to avoid wrathful parents. Shehadi mentioned American culture nowadays is enticed by rewards.

“We’re all more motivated if you throw a trip out there. We’re all motivated if you throw a carrot out there,” he said.

Mark Garratt of STAT considered the $18,000 car an investment that would have exponential returns if attendance rates are boosted.

The high school’s attendance rate for November was marked at 94.7 percent, an increase from 93.6 percent at the same time last year. September and October also showed improvements when compared to the prior year.

“I think the change is starting,” said Patty Haar, the school’s attendance coordinator.

Attendance rewards

Prizes available at South Tahoe High School for students who receive tickets for perfect attendance

Weekly gift certificate drawings

— Ernie’s Coffee Shop

— Bert’s Cafe

— Passaretti’s Italian Restaurant

— Fat Burgers

— Chris’ Cafe

— Big Daddy’s Burgers

— Meyers Downtown Cafe

— Heavenly Village Cinema

— Chevron gas stations near Ski Run Avenue and at Tahoe Paradise

Semester drawings

— iPods

— Gift certificates for 25 songs from iTunes

— Yearbooks

— Photo packages

— Junior/senior prom tickets

— Winter formal tickets

— Two class rings

Source: South Tahoe High School