The drum corps played, cheerleaders flipped and the student body erupted in hoops, hollers and applause — traditional behavior for Raytown High School’s annual back-to-school pep rally.
Only, the rally on Tuesday wasn’t typical.
This year, for the first time, district Superintendent Allan Markley announced the school would be giving away a new car to a student who by the end of the year has maintained an average 95 percent or better attendance.
One qualified senior or junior would be selected in a raffle for the midnight blue 2016 Ford Focus on May 12. A red car just like it would go to a winning student at Raytown South High School.
“Let me tell you what you need to do for a chance to win,” Markley told the nearly 1,500 students assembled on the bleachers at Ted Chittwood Stadium.
The crowd grew silent.
Only juniors and seniors are eligible, Markley said. That got a collective sigh. Starting in September, every month that a qualified student has been in school at least 95 percent of the time, their name is tossed in the raffle hat. A student’s attendance could be above 95 percent one month and below 95 percent another month and as long as the student averages 95 percent at the end of the contest, he or she remains in the drawing.
“Potentially a student could have their name in the hat seven times,” Markley said. The more good months a student has, the better his or her odds are to win the car. “But if at the end of the year, even if a student has had several good attendance months, the average is below 95 percent, you’re out,” Markley said.
By dangling a new car as an incentive, the district expects to improve its overall attendance rating. Markley said while elementary and middle school attendance percentages in the district are steadily in the high 90s, that figure drops at the high school level.
Since daily attendance is factored into per-pupil revenue a district gets from the state, the better a district’s student attendance, the more state revenue it gets. If Raytown improves attendance by 0.2 percent, the revenue from that would easily cover the total $20,000 that the district paid Dick Smith Ford for the two cars.
Missouri state education officials said they had never seen a district go to this level to bump up student attendance. But officials said it was clear why a district might feel that if it works, it’s worth it.
“Attendance is critical,” said Sarah Potter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Not only because we base the district’s pay on it, but it’s also critical because students aren’t learning when they aren’t in school.”
She said that oftentimes, “we see that low performance goes hand in hand with low attendance rates.”
In Raytown, the high school attendance has pulled the district’s overall numbers down to between 93 and 94 percent, below the 95 percent attendance rate Markley said is recommended by the state.
“But we are hoping to improve attendance by a full 1 percent,” Markley said. “That would bring us another $100,000 in revenue. Not bad, huh?”
Markley said the idea to raffle off cars — one for each high school — for good attendance came to him about this time last year while he was looking over attendance records. When Dick Smith Ford of Raytown agreed to work with the district on the price of the cars, Markley and the district’s school board saw that the idea could pay off in multiple ways.
“About 70 percent of our kids live in poverty,” Markley said. “What a great way to help one of them out when they are going off to college, or say they get a job and need a car they can’t afford to get to work.”
The car giveaway is not the first time the district has showered students with gifts at the annual pep rally.
Raynesha Green, a senior, and her friends Sydni Embry and Victoria Goudeau, both juniors, expected going into the stadium that they would probably get something free at the end of the rally.
They were pretty excited when they found out they had a chance to win a new car.
“This sure beats the mini chocolates we got last year,” Goudeau said. All three said they had pretty good attendance last year and thought, “No problem,” they could do it again.
Cheerleader Shekinah Carr, a senior, wanted to know why the district had waited until this year to start giving away cars for attendance. “I had perfect attendance last year,” Carr said. “But this year, I’m probably going to have senioritis.”
Senior Madison Pragman said she believes a lot of students will qualify to participate in the final drawing. “I think the car is really going to motivate kids to come to school,” Pragman said. “It’s something to look forward to.”