Jennifer Perez was handed the keys to a sleek new car after winning a giveaway program for perfect attendance. But she can't drive it.
Perez, 18, is feverishly working to get her driver's license so she can take the Dodge Challenger on the road.
"I was like, 'Oh, why didn't I do this before?'" said Perez, who just graduated from Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School.
So on Friday, when Perez joined three other teen winners at the Hurst dealership that donated the cars, Perez's uncle got behind the wheel.
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The car giveaways illustrate how far school districts will go to boost attendance, which results in more state funding and encourages top academic performance. Besides cars, students can get electronics and gift cards.
"We are trying to inspire kids to stay in school. Every kid is not going to have perfect attendance, but every child has a decision in the morning: Get my homework, figure out what I'm going to wear to school and get to school," said Ernie Horn, executive director of Score a Goal in the Classroom, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit that coordinates incentive programs for many school districts in North Texas.
But more than perfect attendance is rewarded. In the Fort Worth district, Paschal High School senior Robyn Sims was awarded a new Honda Civic LX from Frank Kent Honda for winning the Words for Wheels essay contest. Other finalists got prize packages that include a year of free oil changes, custom detailing and window tinting.
More than 250 students submitted essays.
"We're thrilled with the response to our first Words for Wheels contest," Corrie Watson, co-owner of Frank Kent Honda, said in a statement. "We've already begun planning to make next year's contest even bigger and better. It's our hope that this contest has a huge impact on not only the winner, but all of Fort Worth ISD's graduates and the community."
Publicity and drama
Score a Goal volunteers publicize the car giveaways to teens beginning in the summer, putting up posters at malls and making public service announcements. During the year, the cars are often displayed on campus to provide motivation, Horn said.
The rules for giveaway programs vary. Eligible students usually earn a chance to win for each six-week grading period without unexcused absences. In dramatic giveaway events near the end of the school year, qualifying students are given keys and take turns trying to unlock the car or start the engine.
In the Northwest district, 4,100 high schoolers gathered at Texas Motor Speedway on May 21 for a car giveaway that featured IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. Other finalists won Dell Inspiron laptops.
Sponsors and dealers pay for vehicle taxes, title transfer and licensing so the winning student only has to line up insurance before receiving the car, officials said.
Moritz Dealerships donated four cars for attendance giveaways to help young people, said Jim Hardick, general manager of Moritz of Fort Worth.
"It's just something we choose to do," Hardick said. "We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it helped. If it didn't, it's four cars and it looks good, but from what I'm told, it does have an impact."
It's hard to measure whether the car giveaways have improved student attendance, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they have helped reduce unexcused absences.
At Brewer High School in the White Settlement district, officials are still crunching attendance data for this year, Principal Lorimer Arendse said.
"Every year we've done this we've seen an increase in attendance and in perfect attendance," Arendse said. "Obviously, if a kid is not in school, they're not going to learn. We try to get them to see the value of coming to school."
The school worked with Texas Motors in White Settlement to offer a 2002 Ford Ranger truck to a student.
The winner, junior Jeffrey Osborne, said he doesn't mind that it's not new. The dealership detailed the truck so that it runs well and looks like new, he said.
"I've been praying about it for a while because I just turned 18 a while ago and we're low on money," Osborne said. "If you ask me, it's a free car, so I don't really care."
He doesn't have a driver's license yet, either.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326