'M.r. Bucks' Stop In Hershey

June 07, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Earn a million bucks and Hershey Park is yours for a day.

Baltimore businessman Martin Resnick made that offer to more than 700 Lansdowne Middle School students last fall. And for 342 of them, it was an offer they couldn't resist.

Yesterday, they collected.

Nine buses full of self-made middle school millionaires went to the Pennsylvania amusement park, courtesy of "Uncle Marty," as the kids know the Martin's West owner. He paid for the buses and the students' admission to the park.

But this was no free ride. The students had to earn the trip by attending school, getting good grades and behaving well -- being paid throughout the school year with "M. R. (Martin Resnick) Bucks."

Attendance was worth 1,000 M. R. Bucks a day. Passing the Maryland Functional Math Test brought big bucks -- 50,000. Working quietly in class netted 1,000.

Raising a course grade, making the honor roll, getting high marks for respect, responsibility and cooperation -- each had its price, set by Uncle Marty and Lansdowne staff members who worked on the incentive program.

Bonuses were paid for extra work or helping a teacher, said Mary Heine, the Lansdowne choral music teacher who coordinated the program.

The students received paper bucks from Uncle Marty and kept their own counts for bonus bucks awarded at school.

Ms. Heine said the project also was hard work for teachers, who spent many hours tallying sheets and helping youngsters set and reach goals.

Students who earned 1 million or more M. R. Bucks by May 19 -- the day the bucks stopped -- cashed in on the Hershey trip.

Seventh-graders Dana Gorsche and Bridgett LaPorte were the big earners, each with more than 2 million bucks.

Some students missed the million mark by only a few thousand bucks, Ms. Heine said.

"I think there are some pretty disappointed kids, but that's how life is, too," she said.

Mr. Resnick had planned to accompany the youngsters to Hershey, but the death of a friend in Atlanta prevented him from going.

However, the Lansdowne staff would be videotaping the outing, so "Marty can look at it time and time again," Principal Diane Goldian told students at an assembly Monday.

Mr. Resnick won't have any trouble identifying the Lansdowne crew. They'll be the ones in the yellow T-shirts that say, "$1 million, Uncle Marty knows I'm worth it."

"I want to tell you how proud I am of you," Ms. Goldian told the excited group at the assembly. "You made decisions everyday to come to school, to do your work. You made some pretty tough choices . . . for this trip."

Ms. Heine said there has been steady improvement in attendance and "the attention that the kids seem to be giving to their schoolwork has improved with this program."

The school has been striving for a 94 percent average attendance, which is satisfactory by state standards. Last year, the school missed the standard by three-tenths of a percentage point; this year's tally is not complete.

Eighth-grader Becky Urban said she also could see a difference this year at the school. "Kids are working better in class," said Becky, who accumulated 1,642,000 of Uncle Marty's bucks this year. "Kids have something to look forward to."

She said her grades have improved to A's and B's, but she credits that to new friends rather than the incentive program.

For the past three years, Mr. Resnick has adopted Lansdowne Middle and Riverview Elementary, supporting projects and rewarding successful students with luncheons at Martin's West. The Hershey trip is his biggest undertaking.

"He felt the need to broaden the program this year at Lansdowne," said Ms. Heine, who worked with him and about 10 other school staff members on the plan. "We didn't know if Hershey Park would be an incentive to our kids, but it obviously is. They've really been excited."

Ms. Goldian said this year's program particularly is beneficial because the school can reward students for their achievements.

She and Ms. Heine praised the businessman for his support and for his interest in the youngsters. He visits the school often, participates in incentive activities, sponsors two luncheons and, as Becky said, "tells us to keep trying, to work hard, that he's proud of us."

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