June 6, 2008

Student with Most Improved Attendance Wins Computer

It was Lauren Sapoudias lucky day. The Hilltop High freshman was surprised in her classroom with a Dell laptop computer for having the largest percentage increase of days in school from last year to this year.

Districtwide, Sweetwater students who improved their attendance logged nearly 30,000 more days in school. The uptick in attendance translates into more than $1 million in more state funding for the district facing budget cuts.

Superintendent Jesus Gandara was pleased with the results of the campaign. “At the beginning of this year, I asked all students to give us just one more day of attendance,” he said. “I’m happy to report that many, many students took up that challenge.”

Grand Prize Winner: Lauren Spounias shows off the laptop computer she won for having the most improved attendance record in the Sweetwater Union High School District. She is joined (left to right) Dr. Jesus Gandara, Superintendent; School Board President Pearl Quiñones; Lauren (center); Board Member Arlie Ricasa; Hilltop Principal Ernie Zamudio.

The superintendent also took on the challenge of raising nearly $9,000 from corporate sponsors and district administrators to purchase incentive prizes for students.

Lauren Sapoudias was momentarily speechless when the superintendent, two board members and cameras crews descended on her classroom with balloons and her prize. “I really needed a computer,” she said. “This is going to make a big difference for my school work.”

A year ago, Lauren wrapped up middle school with a less than stellar attendance record. It was tough to make the early morning bell so when she was late, she often skipped school. This year, she was motivated to make a good start in high school. She joined a 9th grade academy – a class that groups students with similar struggles to give them targeted academic support.

In addition to the computer, the district is giving away Sony Playstation 3 video game consoles, IPods and digital video cameras to students who made the biggest turnaround in their attendance or logged perfect attendance. A total of 58 prizes are being awarded districtwide before school ends.

Board president Pearl Quiñones was on hand for the computer giveaway and said the attendance campaign was more than just about boosting funding for the district. “We want our students to come to school every day because we know it’s better for learning,” she said. “Students who are absent an average of 15 days a year will miss about a year’s worth of learning before they graduate from high school.”

Sweetwater has plans to grow the attendance campaign next year. There will be regular publicity blitzes at each school and contests with incentives each semester. The district is hoping to have a car donated to be given away as a grand prize.

“We want our students to remember the message of this campaign which is in the name” Gandara said. “Rethink: Miss School, Miss Out.”

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