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Hundreds of elementary school students that live north of Walnut Street are invited to attend the North Springfield Betterment Association’s 16thannual attendance party at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds. These students had 99 percent or better attendance during the school year, and will receive some mega prizes for the achievement. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark has more.
The organization started more than 30 years ago by founding member and local businessman, Ralph Slavens. He brought together a group of fellow business people, and together they embarked on their first mission as an association, a project that fixed some gaping potholes on a few sidewalks running through town. After that, the members regularly met and looked for other opportunities to beautify and recognize parts of Springfield.
According to President Kim Harris, 15 years later, another problem presented itself to the group: the dropout rate in two Springfield high schools - Central and Hillcrest - sat at an all-time high. Not only that, low attendance directly correlated with the high rate. In 1998, Harris says the dropout rate for Central High School hit around twelve percent and the rate for Hillcrest hit nine percent of the student population.
“We realized, after we discussed this, that it’s very important to teach kids early in life to be in school. Attendance became a problem as well. We dove into that. We work with the 14 north elementary schools in Springfield. We encourage them to be at school every day and on time,” says Harris.
There’s a significant incentive for elementary students who work towards quality school attendance. The nonprofit is 100 percent donation-based and completely supported by the community. Many of its donations come in the form of children’s toys—toys that are given away regularly to students with good attendance.
“We have quarterly prizes for each of the schools, whatever class has the best attendance for the quarter. We make sure they get a great, really nice gift basket for the class, we give them gold coins to pass around, lots of different prizes for them and their teacher. At the end of the year, which is actually happening tomorrow night at the Ozarks Empire Fair Grounds, we have a big party,” says Harris.
This year, over 600 students fell into the 99 percent or better category. Each student and their families got a party invite in the mail.
“Their name will go on the drawing for some big prizes, and then all night long as they are visiting several of the vendors that will have small games at their booths and they will be winning little prizes, they’ll be watching for their name to come up on the big screen. When that name’s drawn, they get to go. We probably have almost $10,000 worth of prizes that will be sitting along the wall that they will get to walk up if their name’s drawn and pick one of those,” says Harris.
This includes bikes, skateboards, Barbie Dolls and many other goodies donated by area businesses. Every student who made the list will also receive a personal backpack full of prizes.
Nate, the NSBA’s red-headed mascot, is also scheduled to make an appearance at the party.
Harris says in the 16 years since the organization started to solely focus on attendance rates, they’ve seen an increase in school participation from some the suffering schools. Last year, Central’s drop-out rate stood 2.4 percent and the Hillcrest rate dropped to 6.1 percent. The graduation rate at Central increased from 59.2 to 76.9 percent, and the rate at Hillcrest rose from 64.9 to 72.9 percent since 1998.
The NSBA has monthly luncheon meetings that include the presentation of a community “betterment” award to an individual that worked to improve Springfield in some way. To join the organization, there is a one-time yearly fee of $50. Harris says there is just shy of 200 members involved already.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark
The attendance party is from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ozarks Empire Fairgrounds E-Plex Tuesday night.