Promise of new gym shoes got students running toward achieving better grades

Companies, teams unite to encourage academics

May 25, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Dawn Mitchum earned a new pair of gym shoes this month -- not for any athletic achievement, but for improving her grade point average from a 0.5 to a 2.25.

"I decided that I didn't like the bad grades I was getting," said the Dundalk High School freshman. "The promise of getting new shoes if I improved my grades by at least one point helped me set a goal, and I did it."

Begun by Holabird Sports to encourage better academic achievement, a program -- dubbed "The Game" -- encouraged students at two Baltimore County high schools to improve their grade point averages from second quarter to third quarter by at least one full point. A student with a 2.0 average -- the equivalent of C's -- had to earn B's, or a 3.0 average, to win a pair of free shoes.

"A lot of kids kept coming up to me to tell me how well they were doing in classes, excited that they were going to be eligible for the free shoes," said A. Thomas Rochfort, assistant principal at Parkville High.

"The beauty of this was that the kids weren't competing against anyone except themselves for the shoes," he said. "All they had to do was improve in class."

To include those students who already were top classroom performers, anyone at who earned straight A's also qualified for the new shoes.

"I'm going to work hard in class anyway, but it's great to be rewarded for good grades," said Dan Wang, 16, a junior in Parkville's rigorous computer, math and science magnet. "Usually, it seems like only the best athletes get the rewards, not the best students."

The program seems to have worked.

Parkville has handed out 73 certificates to students for either improving their grades or earning straight A's.

Dundalk will distribute almost 100 certificates this week.

To be sure, no one at either school credits the shoe program alone for the improved grades. But educators at both schools believe it was a significant factor.

"The bottom line is that we saw a lot of kids improving their grades," said Scott Kilpatrick, a ninth-grade guidance counselor at Dundalk. "It really helped to give them something concrete and show them right away the benefits of education."

The belief that only athletes are rewarded for success was something that Holabird Sports wanted to dispel.

"What message does that send to the kids?" asked Doug Crusse, who organized the program for the Middle River sporting goods company that is one of the country's largest mail-order retailers of athletic shoes and tennis equipment.

"It's more important for kids to earn good grades than to be able to hit a tennis ball or shoot a basket," he said. "We need to emphasize that, and we thought free shoes could help do that."

County school officials say that many schools offer incentives for improved grades or attendance, though the prizes typically are such smaller items as fast food or compact discs.

"Usually, our schools design some kind of program and then they have to go out to businesses asking for support," said Sharon Norman, the school system's director of parent, community and business relations. "What made this so different was that Holabird came to our schools with a program they designed themselves, ready to go."

Holabird found extra corporate support to kick off the program, persuading New Balance and K-Swiss to give price discounts and free shoes.

The Orioles and Ravens also agreed to help pay a portion of the costs.

Crusse offered the program to the city and county school systems, finally settling on a one-year trial with Dundalk and Parkville -- the first two schools to respond.

Winning students can pick from eight New Balance and K-Swiss models, including basketball, running, cross-training and tennis shoes. The shoes cost as much as $100 retail.

"I like white shoes, and these are great," said Parkville junior Jennifer Savoy, 17, as she proudly showed off her new shoes last week.

Jennifer's second-quarter grades were D's and E's, giving her a 0.5 grade point average. She improved to B's and C's in the third quarter, moving up to a 2.6 -- one of Parkville's biggest individual gains.

"The shoes were something to shoot for," Jennifer said.

Of course, it also helped that Jennifer was grounded during the third quarter after her second-quarter grades arrived, said her mother, Robin Milburn.

"We were really disappointed in her grades, but we were so happy she improved," Milburn said. "The free shoes made it even better."

Holabird plans to expand the program next fall, perhaps to every county and city high school, said Crusse and company owner David Hirshfeld.

The students and staff at Dundalk and Parkville hope to participate again next year.

"I hope they do it again next year," said Larry Wadsworth, 16, a sophomore at Dundalk who improved his grades from an A, B, C and D to two A's and two B's.

"But even if they do, I won't let my grades slip just to win shoes. I plan to keep them up from now on."

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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