IF YOU THINK that holding a straight-A average is the best that Philadelphia public high-schoolers can do - think again.
They might also have perfect attendance.
It is these students - 218 in all - who are the vanguard of those who will benefit from the academic-rewards plan that I suggested last September.
These champion students will receive two tickets each to sit in the mayor's box this spring to watch the World Champion Phillies play.
After several months of planning and preparation, the Philadelphia School District and the Mayor's Office of Education have a pilot program that will be announced today, according to Jim Wilson, executive assistant in the mayor's education office and the plan's point man.
It will be called Mayor's VIPs, with VIP standing for Very Impressive Performers. Even more impressive is that the 218 straight-A, perfect-attendance students also have never been late for school nor involved in any trouble.
In 2008, 602 of the district's 48,000 high-school students got straight-A's.
"Our little experiment" is deliberately smaller, Wilson says, "so we can have more control."
For the fall term, it will expand to all straight-A public high-schoolers.
"We started with the Phillies because we have those tickets physically" through the office of the mayor's chief of staff, Wilson says. Besides sports arenas, the mayor also has seats in music venues, and these can be incorporated as the VIP program develops.
"The biggest hangup will be distribution," says Wilson.
My idea came from my belief that bottom-dwelling high-schoolers get a lot of attention - from truant officers, social workers, cops and courts. Straight-A students, basically, got nada, other than the thrill of victory.
In many Philadelphia public schools, sadly, straight-A students are bullied and disparaged for their academic efforts. I thought that Philadelphia should encourage them by giving them benefits that the low-achievers would envy. Suddenly, the nerds would become the cool kids who get cool rewards.
And now the VIP plan is set to launch.
The mayor's education office and the school district will observe how the program works over the spring, fix any problems and have it ready to go in the fall, fulfilling an expectation expressed to me months ago by Dr. Lori Shorr, the mayor's chief education officer.
Truthfully, I was more hopeful than optimistic, because the bureaucracy had to be awakened and engaged. That's sometimes like poking a grizzly bear with a fish stick.
For the pilot program, the district's office of accountability crunched the numbers as of March 1.
Of Philadelphia's 64 public high schools, 34 had at least one student with perfect grades and perfect attendance. Some schools had many more.
The No. 1 school, with the most "perfect" students - was Central, with 54. The rest of the top 10:
2. Masterman, 27
3. Northeast, 21
4. Academy at Palumbo, 15
5. George Washington, 13
6. Girls High, 10
7. Creative and Performing Arts, 7
8 (tie). Lincoln High and Science Leadership Academy, 6
9. Bartram, 5.
As the fourth marking period begins, the district has a challenge: The four students in each high school who most improve their attendance and grade-point average will also get goodies.
Over the summer, Wilson says, he will be reaching out to the public-spirited businesses that have agreed to support the VIP program.
As I reported last time, this includes Comcast-Spectacor, with seats at Sixers, Flyers, Kixx and Wings games; the World Champion Phillies; the Eagles; and Allied Advertising Public Relations and Terry Hines & Assoc., which have promised free preview tickets for age-appropriate movies. If a "hot" movie is coming out, a "scholars-only" preview might be arranged.
Once the program is rolling and proven, there can be other add-ons, such as VIP discounts from local athletic-equipment, food, clothing, electronics and other retailers. If you are a civic-minded business and want to cut yourself a slice of this delicious and wholesome pie, contact me. *
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