School district offers prizes in new tactic to boost attendance

Michelle Theriault Boots
East High School students departing registration Tuesday, August 6, 2013, glance at a Jeep Patriot an Anchorage School District student will win following a year of perfect attendance. Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge is donating a 2013 Patriot under the Drive For Perfect Attendance program.
Erik Hill
Arceli Carreon pauses for a photo Tuesday, August 6, 2013, as students and parents arriving for registration at West High School take a look at a Jeep Patriot an Anchorage School District student will win following a year of perfect attendance. She was sending the photo to her high-school-age son, who is out of state. Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge is donating a 2013 Patriot under the Drive For Perfect Attendance program.
Erik Hill

The newest weapons in the Anchorage School District's ongoing battle against truancy: pizza, Disneyland and a new Jeep.

Starting this fall, the district is using the promise of big-ticket prizes donated by local businesses as an enticement to students to come to class every day.

On Tuesday afternoon one of those prizes, a Jeep Patriot, was parked outside Dimond High School when Jared Irvine sauntered up to register for his junior year.

The promotional messages painted on the Jeep said he could win it for having perfect school attendance. That sounded pretty good to the 16-year-old, as long as he could choose the paint job.

But would it be enough to get his fellow students to class on time, every day?

Doubtful, he said.

But the school district is hoping he's wrong. The Anchorage School District needs to tackle truancy in every way that it can, said superintendent Ed Graff.

"Attendance is a critical job skill," he said. "Right next to getting along with others."

Next May younger kids with perfect yearlong attendance will be eligible to win a trip to Disneyland. Older kids who come to school every day could win a new Jeep or Alaska Airlines tickets. Students with close-to-perfect attendance records will automatically receive smaller prizes like Pizza Hut coupons.

The school district isn't spending any money on the program, which they call, "Drive and Fly for Perfect Attendance," Embley said.

All the prizes were donated by local businesses such as Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge of South Anchorage, GCI, the Alaska Aces, Pizza Hut and IBEW Local 1547.

Offering cars, airplane tickets and pizza to students for going to class isn't purely bribery, said Anchorage School Board president Tam Agosti-Gisler.

"Right now going to school is their job," said Tam Agosti-Gisler, the president of the Anchorage School Board. "This is an incentive for a job well done."

It's a softer tactic than last fall, when the district announced it was teaming up with the municipal prosecutor to enforce a long-toothless truancy law.

Parents were warned that as a last resort they could be prosecuted criminally for their young children's chronic absences.

"Several" such cases made it to the prosecution stage, said Seneca Theno of the municipal prosecutor's office.

Theno said she didn't know the details of the cases or how they had been resolved.

Last year teachers also made phone calls home to ask about absences, he said. Anchorage Police Department resource officers stationed in schools checked up on chronically late or missing kids. In one case a school PTA association even used its funds to purchase alarm clocks for families, said Embley.

So far, the new emphasis seems to be helping on at least a modest scale.

Attendance rates were up in 11 of 13 grades in the 2012-2013 school year from the previous year, Graff said.

The improvement can't be attributed to a single factor, he said.

Still, only 57.8 percent of seniors made it to school 90 percent of the time during the 2012-2013 school year, according to district statistics. That's up from 55.4 percent the previous year.

Attendance peaked in the sixth grade last year, when 82.8 percent of kids made it to class 90 percent of the time.

This year parents of absent children at all grade levels can expect robocalls from schools. ASD-produced ads encouraging parents to make sure their kids get to school are also airing on local TV channels.

Jared Irvine's guardian Joanna Stinnett was with him at Dimond High School registration Tuesday. She'd had her own attendance problems when she attended Dimond High years ago, she said.

They culminated in her dropping out with plans to get a GED. Instead she got pregnant and had a baby at age 15.

Incentives like a car would have meant nothing to her back then, she said.

"For kids who have serious home problems a car isn't going to influence that," she said.

Now she was determined to make sure Irvine at least made it to school on time, even if it meant driving him there herself.

But his motivation for doing well once he got inside the building?

"That's up to him," she said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.