Laptop computers from Dell Inc., and even a few automobiles, are among the many incentives the Fort Worth, Texas, school system will give away this year to encourage students to come to class.

In an effort to boost attendance across the district, students who never or very rarely miss class will be eligible for prizes donated by local businesses–including cars, computers, and kids’ bedroom furniture.

“We have one objective: If [students are] there, our teachers can teach them,” interim Superintendent Joe Ross said Aug. 25 in announcing the incentive program.

There’s a financial benefit for the district, too. Schools get state funding based on the number of youngsters at school, an average of about $32 daily per student.

Because higher attendance usually means higher test scores and lower dropout rates, many school districts across Texas and nationwide are finding creative ways to get children in class, education officials say.

“As teachers, we hope children come to school to learn because they know their success in life depends on what happens in the classroom,” said Richard Kouri, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. “You would hope that would be enough, but if you look at attendance numbers, there are some issues.”

Fort Worth lags a little behind the state’s average attendance rates. In 2001-02, the city had a 93.8 percent rate, compared with the state’s 95.6 percent, according to city and Texas Education Agency data. Fort Worth’s attendance rates rose to 94.1 percent in 2002-03 and 94.9 percent last school year. State figures are not yet available for those years.

Fort Worth’s attendance incentives program started at the district’s Western Hills High School in 2002-03 when its Adopt-a-School partner, Moritz Chevrolet, gave away a PT Cruiser. The dealership donated another car last spring at the school, where attendance rates rose nearly 1 percent last year to 94.5 percent.

When Trimble Tech High School announced last semester that a student there also would win a car for perfect or near-perfect attendance, Principal Omar Ramos noticed crowded hallways and fewer empty classroom seats.

Students who never or rarely missed class were eligible to win a 2001 Ford Mustang purchased with money donated from Thomas S. Byrne Construction Co., causing the attendance rate to climb from 92.1 percent in 2002-03 to 94.7 percent in the last academic year, the highest rate of any Fort Worth school.

“This helped me out a lot, because my family couldn’t afford to buy me a car,” said Melissa Trevino, 18, who won the car in May before graduating from Trimble Tech.

Those programs will continue at those schools, and this year Longhorn Dodge is donating a 2002 Dodge Neon for an O.D. Wyatt High School student with perfect attendance. Also, all high schoolers in the district have a chance to win a 2005 Saturn Ion donated by Saturn of Fort Worth.

Cargokids, a division of Fort Worth-based Pier 1 Imports, will give away $2,000 shopping sprees for two elementary students with perfect attendance–and Dell, located in metropolitan Austin, Texas, will donate laptop computers for two middle schoolers with perfect attendance.

Fort Worth school officials hope other companies also will donate items to increase the incentives.

“It has made a difference at our school,” Ramos said of the program.

Links:

Fort Worth Independent School District
http://www.fortworthisd.org