School administrators in Middle Township are using prizes as incentive to get children to come to school.

Flickr user: Sean MacEntee

The program was launched April 15, after the state cut $1.3 million in aid to the district because of high absenteeism rates.

School districts are required by the state to achieve a 96 percent attendance rate each day.

Toni Johnson, Vice Principal of Middle Township Middle School, started looking online for ideas on how to boost attendance rates.

"I found that small conversations with students and just making connections with them mattered. If I asked them why they weren't in school or where they were, it mattered to them that someone cared where they were, so I started there and then I started looking into it further to see what more I could do," said Johnson.

She found that many schools were offering incentive-based programs and decided to give it a try.

"Who doesn't like that carrot hung over them knowing there's a reward for a job well done? Of course, the idea is to make it more intrinsic long-term. But, so far, it seems to have students rallying with one another in terms of getting them to come," she said.

Johnson picked up the phone and had some prizes donated. Students can win prizes individually, as a homeroom, by grade or as a school.

Prizes for Students

"All the kids have the opportunity to win a prize. While, we don't have enough prizes to give to everyone, they have the option of putting their name into a raffle, which is drawn on Friday. So, that chance to win is always there," said Johnson. "Next year, we may do it monthly, or per marking period. But, in order for it to take hold, we wanted to start it off on a short-term basis."

Some of the prizes include bracelets for Morey's Piers in Wildwood, gift cards to stores on the boardwalk and cookie trays from local businesses. Grand prizes, which will be given at the end of the year, include bicycles, a penny board and an iPad.

"While there are a handful of students who are chronically absent, the numbers have definitely decreased," said Johnson. "The goal is to have the middle school at 98 percent student attendance, although 100 percent would be even better."