Perfect attendance helps Utah teen win the perfect prize
Published: November 27, 2013 12:13PM
Updated: November 26, 2013 10:34PM
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Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune The Hunter High School student body cheers as junior Kaylee Duke wins a 2001 Honda Accord Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, for perfect attendance. She was the grand prize winner among a group of students with perfect attendancewho spun a wheel for prizes in an assembly at the school. Other students with perfect attendance won gift certificates, an iPad Mini and other prizes.

This school year, Hunter High School junior Kaylee Duke has made a point of being present. And on Tuesday, she got one.

Duke was the grand prize winner among a group of students with perfect attendance who were invited to spin a wheel for prizes in a morning assembly. She snagged a 2001 Honda Accord, waving the keys before the cheering student body.

Nine other winning students received gift certificates, Beats headphones and an iPad mini, as administrators got creative to boost attendance.

There’s been a 33 percent increase in the number of students who haven’t missed a day of school, “so the incentive is working,” said assistant principal Mitch Nerdin. “It’s been a great success.”

Duke, 16, said the gesture — an anonymous faculty member donated the car — makes her want to be a better person, to pass on the generosity.

“I don’t know who it is, but I want them to know I really appreciate it. It changes my life,” Duke said Tuesday afternoon. “There is no way I could repay someone for this.”

Duke said her mother at first thought she was lying when she called to say she won a car. “And then she ended up crying.”

She figures her parents will help her pay for insurance.

The faculty member has a “vested interest” in attendance and decided, “I’m going to put my money where my mouth is,” Nerdin said.

Students qualified by having perfect attendance during specific time periods, and their names were entered more than once if they qualified during multiple stints, Nerdin said. There were about 1,200 entries, and the names of the 10 students who spun for prizes were drawn from a bowl.

The West Valley City school is planning a similar drawing for the end of the year, again with multiple qualifying periods, Nerdin said. And another faculty member has offered to donate a car, for the spring contest or next year, he said.

Utah public schools have a 95 percent average attendance rate — but that masks the 13.5 percent of Utah students who are chronically absent, University of Utah researchers found in a recent study. The odds that a student will drop out of high school are 7.4 times greater if he or she is chronically absent — missing school 10 percent or more of the time — in any year starting in eighth grade, according to the analysis.