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Too young to drive, she wins a car

Resource type: News

Chicago Tribune |

Original Source By Karl Stampfl, Bonnie Miller Rubin and Kristen Kridel, Tribune reporters For her strong school attendance record, Ashley Martinez won a sparkling new Dodge Caliber-a sporty hatchback that starts at about $15,000. Unfortunately, she needs to wait four years to drive her prize. She’s only 12. “I can wait,” the Eberhart Elementary School 7th grader said Monday. Chicago Public Schools offered the car as part of an effort to boost attendance, which has hovered around 91 percent the last several years, spokesman Frank Shuftan said. That’s consistently below the state average of 93.7, according to the most recent District Report Card. Through April, the school system’s ’07-’08 average was 89.4 percent, but Shuftan attributed the decline to a change in the way rates are calculated. The school system has offered several rewards for attendance in recent years, including vacations to Wisconsin resorts, laptops, iPods and even paying a family’s rent or mortgage for a month. But some experts do not approve of programs that reward children for doing the minimum, like showing up. “My first reaction is what? A car?” said Nancy Samalin, a nationally recognized parenting expert and author of “Loving Without Spoiling.” “The main reason we send kids to school is to love learning.” Several Chicago-area districts said they do not offer such large incentives. “Oh, my goodness,” Melea Smith, spokeswoman for Naperville School District 203, said when she learned of the Chicago car giveaway. “That’s not an issue here. We have great attendance.” District 203 had a 96.2 percent attendance rate in the 2006-07 school year. Arne Duncan, Chicago Public Schools chief, stood by the system’s use of incentives. “We’re never going to apologize for that,” he said. “It’s really important for kids to be in school every day. You could have the best teachers in the world, the greatest curriculum, but if they’re not in school, it doesn’t matter.” Duncan said incentives such as new cars give parents an extra reason to make sure their children go to classes. “We really want to say that though students are doing a good job, they’re not doing it by themselves,” he said. Incentive offers make sense financially because some state funding is tied to the number of students in attendance. For each percentage point increase in average attendance, the city’s school system receives up to $18 million in state funding. The cost of the car, including taxes, was donated by Clear Channel and South Chicago Dodge. Students did not even need perfect attendance for the whole school year to qualify for the contest. By attending school every day in any one of three three-month periods, 189,115 students were eligible for a chance at the car. Ashley had perfect attendance for two of those periods. Of those eligible, about 150 names were randomly selected, and students and parents were invited to a dealership on South Western Avenue to put a key in the ignition. Luis Martinez, 46, turned the key for his daughter, and after the car began to rumble, he thrust both hands into the air with excitement. “I hope this can help everybody to get their kids to go to school every day and on time,” said Martinez, who plans to drive the car until his daughter is old enough. Incentives can help motivate children and teens to attend after-school programs, according to a report released this month by Child Trends, a non-profit Washington, D.C.-based research center. “Our read of the research is that there’s middle ground. There are kids who wouldn’t come regularly . . . if there weren’t incentives,” said Kristin Moore, a researcher with Child Trends. “It’s one thing to get them there . . . and it’s another thing to use it over a long period of time. You really want them to become engaged in learning for its own sake, but sometimes you need a hook.” Incentives differ depending on age, said the report. Not surprisingly, the older the kids, the bigger the carrot. While younger children can be happy with T-shirts and small toys, older kids need iPods and tickets to sporting events to stay engaged. Karen Peterson of Governors State University said extrinsic motivation can lead to intrinsic motivation. In her own classroom experience, which included 23 years in a high-needs district before she moved on to training future teachers, she saw many students who first started reading for pizza and then got excited about books. “There’s a place for this,” she said. “You can’t see it as one or the other, but rather as one leading to the other.” Ashley and her family said the potential for reward wasn’t why she compiled a strong attendance record. “I’m real proud of her because she does good work at school,” Luis Martinez said. “We never thought there would be something like this.”

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