Fast-food outreach

Happy Meals to include kindergarten reminder

March 22, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Howard County school officials are hoping that the way to parents' ears is through the tummies of their kids.

Looking for a new way to communicate messages, the school system has arranged to have cards urging parents to register their kindergarten-eligible children for school next fall included in Happy Meals at several county McDonald's restaurants.

About 22,000 of the cards will be distributed, beginning in the next couple of weeks, school officials say.

Registration for new students or students entering kindergarten in county schools is under way.

School officials were looking for other ways to reach parents when the idea was hatched, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said. If the program is deemed a success, other messages might be distributed in the popular fast-food meals throughout the year, she said.

"The arrangement gives the school system an innovative way to share important information with the community, which can be especially valuable in reaching parents who do not yet have children in the school system and those who may be difficult to contact via other means," Caplan said.

A reminder about signing up for kindergarten was selected as the first message because timely registration allows schools to prepare adequately for students' arrival in the fall, Caplan said.

Over the years, many school systems have employed a variety of means for communicating with parents, including placing posters in apartment complexes and community centers and advertising in newspapers and on the Internet.

But the Happy Meal idea appears to be forging fresh ground.

"This is a new one for me," said Charles Herndon, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools. "That's an interesting way of doing something."

The Howard school system will incur no cost for the program, Caplan said. The collaboration between the county and McDonald's will also include the fast-food giant committing to participate in mock interviews for student assignments and making Career Day presentations, Caplan said.

"Including kindergarten registration information in our stores is just one way we hope to get parents and community leaders involved in Howard County public schools," said Cathy Bell, who owns the four McDonald's restaurants that will distribute the cards.

Bell said this is the first time her restaurants have included such materials with their products.

The county chose to begin the program with kindergarten registration because of its importance in the education process, Caplan said.

"When parents are new, they may not know about the registration process," she said. "You may not necessarily know what to do or when to register."

Early registration helps the school system plan for providing adequate staffing, Caplan said.

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