Raytown South High School sophomore J’Dan Peterson-Ward had never won anything in his life until Thursday afternoon, when his school handed him the keys to a brand-new car.
Peterson-Ward, 16, was one of two students in the Raytown district to win a 2016 Ford Focus just for coming to school.
After his name was announced as a winner, Peterson-Ward whispered to district Superintendent Allan Markley, “I can’t get my knees to stop shaking.”
On Friday at Raytown High School, 17-year-old junior Kaitlyn Robinson was the second lucky student to walk away with the keys to a new Focus.
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In August, Markley had announced to students during a back-to-school pep rally that this school year, for the first time, both Raytown High and Raytown South would give a new car to a student who maintained an average 95 percent or better attendance.
Starting in September, any month that a qualified student had been in school at least 95 percent of the time, their name was tossed into a raffle. The district ran the same type of program at its three middle schools, where winning students got new bikes.
The idea, Markley said, was to make sure students were in school every day. If enough students took him up on the challenge, the district could raise its attendance rate. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires schools to have 90 percent of students in school 90 percent of the time.
While Raytown’s elementary and middle school attendance percentages are steadily in the high 90s, that figure drops at the high school level. Dangling a new car in front of students brought the high school attendance rate up roughly 1 point, to 93.5 percent at Raytown High and 92.4 percent at Raytown South.
“And that was tough to do this year,” Markley said. Schools in the district had many days in December and January when the flu forced a lot of students to stay home.
Peterson-Ward and Robinson took the challenge seriously.
He averaged 95.7 percent attendance, she averaged 99.7 percent attendance. That means “she never missed a day, only a few hours of school,” Markley said.
Now that students have seen classmates actually win the cars, Markley is expecting next year’s attendance challenge to produce even better averages.