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FARMINGTON — Bloomfield schools Superintendent Kim Mizell knows her district has a long way to go before it conquers its high school truancy and dropout problems.

But she feels like the district struck a blow against both those issues this year and is poised to make even more progress in the future.

On Friday morning, in a drawing in the Bloomfield High School auditorium, two students who maintained perfect attendance records this year had their name pulled from a pouch and were handed the keys to one of two cars — a silver 2007 Ford Mustang for sophomore Kayleb Robinson and a red 2007 Ford Focus for freshman Iann Coleman.

The contest — initiated by Mizell but borrowed from Rio Rancho Public Schools — was designed to serve as an incentive for high school students who were missing too many days of school and, by extension, ending their academic career without a diploma.

A total of 24 students at the district's Bloomfield High School and Charlie Y. Brown High School met the criteria to be involved in the drawing — no absences, aside from athletic competitions or other school-related activities, and no showing up for class tardy. Mizell said the district normally ends the school year with only five or six high school students who achieve perfect attendance, so the contest appears to have played a significant role in increasing that figure substantially.

Of those two dozen students, seven were freshmen. Mizell was most pleased by that number.

"When you see that many freshmen with perfect attendance, that's pretty good," she said. "That's when we lose them."

 

While she was hesitant to draw too many conclusions from just one year of results, Mizell is hopeful the contest is a sign of even better things to come. As she explained in an interview in February promoting the program, younger students who start racking up school absences are particularly vulnerable to becoming a dropout because once they fall behind, they get frustrated and reject the idea of starting a semester over.

The idea of having a chance to win a free car by showing up for class every day appears to have gotten the attention of dozens of the district's students. As late as December, some 60 students had maintained perfect attendance records — a number that Mizell said normally would have been around 10.

Even though fewer than half those students made it to the end of the school year without any absences, Mizell knows that every extra day they made it to class increases their odds of exiting high school with a diploma in their hand.

The car-giveaway program was made possible through a series of donations. The Mustang was purchased through a $10,000 grant from the BP America Production Co. and a $4,000 donation by Ziems Ford Corners, while the Focus was donated by Interstate Recovery & Towing.

 

Mizell plans to continue the car-giveaway program next year, and she already has received a pledge from a donor to contribute a car, though the make and model is unknown. She noted that the program was more successful in its inaugural year in Bloomfield than it was in its first year in Rio Rancho, where only 18 students qualified for the drawing — and Rio Rancho is a much larger district.

Mizell hopes to see the number of qualifying students increase by five or six next year. If that were to happen every year, she said, the district soon would make a serious dent in its truancy and dropout rates.

On Thursday, she was eagerly anticipating Friday's drawing and the response she was counting on seeing from students when they were presented with evidence that that program was real.

"I think (the number of students with perfect attendance is) only going to get bigger when the kids see it's for real, not a fluky thing," she said.

Mike Easterling covers education, health and the environment for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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