The first year of the perfect-attendance incentive program that's ran by local businesses to get Anchorage School District students to come to school every day is almost over -- and students and staff say it's working.
According to ASD, some 12,813 elementary students and 444 high-schoolers are still eligible for a Disneyland vacation or a free car. At SAVE (Specialized Academic Vocational Education) High School, where attendance is a big issue, seeing five students still in the running is a big deal.
It's been a long four years of high school for Justus Easley. After barely getting by at Dimond High School, he came to SAVE this school year with about 10 credits.
"There was a lack of actually doing work, I had an attitude with all my teachers," said Easley, who says he didn't used to care about school. "I was not feeling motivated to even go to school -- I would wake up at like 8 o'clock, and school's already started."
Easley says his level of motivation has changed in his senior year, however. While he partially credits his goal of graduating on time, he says the potential of winning a new car also has something to do with it.
His odds of winning: one in 444, the number of ASD juniors and seniors still eligible for this school year's perfect-attendance car giveaway. After working hard all year, Easley is only two credits shy of graduation -- and with the finish line in sight, he says the new incentive program is a welcome bonus for both him and his fellow students.
"You should be going to school anyways, but hey -- if they think they are getting a car for going every day, if that makes them go to school, right?" Easley said.
The program is working magic for others too. Besides Easley, four other SAVE students have perfect attendance. Longtime teacher Bob Adkins says it's motivating the entire school.
"We've got kids who ride their bikes, we've got kids that walk, we've got kids who take two or three city buses to get here," Adkins said. "I'm glad to hear there are five, but of course we would like to have more than five, so we're striving to get them all here every day."
The businesses which have stepped up to offer prizes say it's been worth it to boost ASD's attendance rates. At Lithia Motors, general manager Troy Jarvis says he looks to hire people with good grades and good attendance.
"We want to celebrate the accomplishments of these students and the more we tell the students of how important this is, I think the more results we are going to see in the future," said Cherie Spink, the executive director of the Anchorage School Business Partnership.
While the initiative is meant to develop successful habits now, students like Easley will be able to take advantage of them in the future.
"Really -- you are getting paid, you're getting education for free, so what more can you really ask for," Easley said.
Compared to last school year, ASD officials say so far attendance numbers have improved. First quarter absences dropped 21 percent, with the second and third quarters each seeing absences fall 3 percent.
The giveaway will be announced at about May 8 for the high-school free car, with the elementary-school Disneyland vacation's winner named about a week later.