A program that offers student discounts at stores in Baltimore will be continued during the next school year because sponsors believe it has helped prevent truancy. However, some merchants say they have attracted very few shoppers despite the $l discounts.
The Gold Card program, which began last Septemberencourages attendance by rewarding students at participating middle schools in the city. Some students qualify by attending school 90 percent of the month. Those with chronic absences must improve their attendance record by four days compared with the previous month.
Since the start of the program, the average attendance has risen by 1.5 percent, Dates says.
A total of 1,150 students received cards, which are valid through the end of this month.
Most stores take 10 percent off purchases; one or two places offer a 15 or 25 percent discount to the students and members of their families.
The effort "has been successful, but could have been more successful if more businesses would participate," says Karen Dates, Gold Card program coordinator of the Baltimore Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is a partnership between the mayor's offic and the City Council, the Greater Baltimore Committee, Baltimore public schools, the Private Industry Council and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.
"Some of the most popular retailers to the middle schoostudents don't want to become sponsors in the program partly )) because of the recession and partly because they don't want a large number of students shopping in their stores," Dates says.
When the card was introduced last fall, 50 businesses participated. The number had grown to more than 100 when the school year ended last week. "We hope to get many more sponsors for next year," says Dates.
Among current participants, Charlie Rudo Sports Inc. has been hot, says Dates. Rudo, which has five stores, sells name-brand sweat suits and items like socks and jackets that students want because they are fads.
"A lot of kids come in to use their Gold Card to buy shoes like Nike and Reebok that are basically priced at $49.95," says Lloyd Johnson, store manager at the Rudo store in Northwood Shopping Center. With the 10 percent discount for the Gold Card, they get $5 off, he says.
The Rudo outlet at Mondawmin Mall also sells a good number of athletic shoes. "We got about four students a week and about 20 a
month during the school year to come in to use their Gold Card to purchase shoes," says store manager Tim Zito.
Some participating businesses appeal to the families.
"I was real happy when my son received a Gold Card," say Charlotte Streat of Baltimore. "The first thing I said was, 'Your grandfather can use this Jiffy Lube discount." Streat is the mother of Robert Crowder of Lombard Middle School.
A number of merchants say their participation hasn't brought i many customers. Several recalled only one or two students who presented Gold Cards during the school year.
"Not too many have come in," says Gladys Fishman of Alladin Cleaners on Charles Street. "Dry cleaning is not really student intense, but we are happy to see them come in with their parents." Alladin offers a 15 percent discount.
At Brooklyn Video on Patapsco Avenue, card holders can get a free video for each one they rent. But there have been no takers. "We still haven't had anybody come in to use their card. One mother asked about the program," says employee Angie Hamilton. She says a participating school is about eight blocks away.
Only 13 middle schools were involved in the Gold Card progra but next year that number will jump to 17 of the 26 middle schools in Baltimore, Dates says.
"The concept of the Gold Card program is excellent," says Willie Foster, director of Baltimore middle schools. She says she expects the program to help attendance and the students' attitude toward school.
"I missed one day of school, but I wanted a Gold Card so I didn't miss any more days," says Brien Carter, a seventh-grader at Winston Middle School.
The Abell Foundation gave Baltimore Commonwealth a $67,000 grant to supply each school with equipment to make cards.