Baldwin County High car raffle spurring academic success

MILLEDGEVILLE — If Baldwin County High School junior Semetress Simmons hadn’t earned A’s and B’s on her report card and showed up for class day after day, she wouldn’t have won a green Honda Civic.

“I worked harder to get the car,” Simmons, 16, said of the 1999 model she won her freshman year in the school’s Great Car Give-A-Way. “I think it’s a wonderful program.”

In 2006-07, the high school launched an incentive program for students to earn three tickets for each A, two tickets for each B and one ticket for each C on their report card. Students with perfect attendance for a month also get a ticket. At the end of the school year, all the tickets are entered into a drawing for a car.

The school gave away a maroon Honda last spring.

Just before Saturday’s graduation, school officials will pull out a winning ticket to see which student gets this year’s prize: a 1997 red convertible Audi donated by Butler Ford.

The two-door car with black leather interior has just more than 100,000 miles on it, “but it’s a nice little gift for someone who did a good job,” said Butler sales manager Mike Morris.

About 2,800 tickets have been earned this school year by Baldwin High’s about 1,400 students.

“Things tangible, like a car, give children a reason to work toward perfect attendance and improving their grades,” said Baldwin High principal Lyn Chandler. “Saturday morning, some lucky child will pick up a shiny red convertible and drive around with the top down, if it’s not raining.”

Chandler is a fan of the incentive program, which he said has increased attendance rates and test scores.

“Why not reward those excelling?” he asked.

This year Baldwin High’s juniors taking the Georgia High School Graduation Test for the first time fared better in all subjects than the state average. Also, more of the school’s students are graduating since the incentive has been in place.

In 2006, before the car incentive program, the high school had 142 students drop out compared to about 45 this school year. The school’s graduation rate went from 58.3 percent that year to what school officials predict will be 70 percent this school year.

And students who missed 15 days of school or more has dropped from 21 percent in 2006 to under 19 percent this year, test data shows.

Along with the car incentive program, school officials also are launching a stay-in-school campaign to boost graduation rates and offer parenting classes that likely are also improving academics and graduation rates, Superintendent Geneva Braziel said.

School officials hope with the sagging economy, which is closing some car dealerships or forcing them to downsize, the dealership will be able to donate next school year to keep the program going.

“It’ll probably be the last year due to the economy,” said Morris at Butler Ford. “Times are hard.”

The Great Car Give-A-Way has certainly been a hit with students.

“I see a lot of students collecting tickets,” said junior Keyon King who says he’s earned between 10 to 20 tickets. “They consider it an accomplishment when they get a ticket.”