CASPER, Wyoming – Public schools often reward excellent attendance with movie tickets, gas vouchers and iPods. But some United States students are now hitting the ultimate teenage jackpot: They have won cars or trucks just for going to school.
Last spring, 16-year-old Kaytie Christopherson won a brand-new $28,000 pickup truck, with an MP3 player, for near-perfect school attendance.
"I take it everywhere," the high school junior said.
School districts in several states are now giving away vehicles, which usually are awarded through drawings open only to students with good attendance.
Does bribing students with the possibility of winning a car get them to think twice about staying home? Some educators think so, but the evidence is not clear-cut.
Christopherson said the truck was not what motivated her to keep up attendance. She just did not want to fall behind.
School district attendance officer Gary Somerville said he also hopes to reduce the district's 29 percent dropout rate, which he blames in part on Wyoming's booming gas-and-oil industry, which can pay around $16 an hour.
"It's kind of hard to keep them in school past their 16th birthday," Somerville said.
Only 98 of Natrona County's 3,200 sophomores, juniors and seniors were eligible for last year's drawing.
Districts also have a lot to gain and little to lose by holding car drawings. The vehicles are usually free, donated by a local dealership. And in Wyoming, even a one-student increase in average daily enrollment means another $12,000 in state funding for the year.
This year, Christopherson's district is giving away a blue 2007 Chevy Colorado. It is being displayed at football and basketball games and will be parked at the mall over the holidays.
"The kids all come around and say, 'Man, that's the truck I'm working for,"' Somerville said.
The school district in Hartford, Connecticut, has been holding a drawing — for either a car or $10,000 — for the past six years. Five of those times, the winning family chose the money.
"I can't tell you that it's increased attendance," spokesman Terry D'Italia said. "But what it has done over the years is just kept a focus on it and kept it at the top of kids' minds."
Jack Stafford, associate principal at South Tahoe High School in California, said attendance increased slightly last year, the first year the school system gave away a car.
He said changing times call for such incentives.
"My mom had the three-B rule: There'd better be blood, bone or barf, or I was going to school," Stafford said. But that is not the case now, he said.