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Pizza Party Patrol
Delivers Great Attendance


Students who get themselves to class each day at W. T. Cooke Elementary School may earn rewards that are both tangible and tasty.

This family won dinner at a restaurant because they feel its cool for me to come to school!
"Cooke Elementary has the highest mobility rate of any elementary school in the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia," explains Kim Guevara, an early childhood special education teacher. "We also have the highest percent of homeless families. With those two obstacles that hamper student attendance, we had to come up with an original idea to motivate not only students but families to want to get to school each day."

School staff members discussed methods to reward entire families of students who maintained excellent attendance. What they created has been dubbed the "Papa John's Pizza Party Patrol." Every month, teachers enter the names of students who have perfect attendance into drawings by class. The winning names are drawn by the principal on Cooke TV, the school's television station. Recipients receive notification by phone to ensure that the family will be present when the pizza arrives that evening.

Next, Guevara locates the home with MapQuest to obtain directions. Cooke Elementary's very own "Prize Patrol" of eight to ten staff members piles into Guevara's SUV and delivers hot pizza, balloons, and a dessert to the homes of the lucky students and their families. Photos and videos document each delivery for the next day's morning news at school. Although the program has proven to significantly raise attendance rates, it is funded by donations and costs the school little.

Another dinner winner from the Pizza Party Patrol.
"A lot of our families simply enjoy having the dinner and fanfare that comes with it," observes Guevara. "Parents are shocked that the principal, assistant principal, and staff members drive up to their home to deliver pizzas. Children tell their parents they have to be in school, so they can have the pizza party at their house."

One of the Pizza Party Patrol's most poignant stories is also bittersweet. A homeless family with two children who attended Cooke Elementary alternated between living on the street and, when there was money, in a hotel room. The oldest son desperately wanted to win a visit from the patrol and asked if he could stay with a friend's family from Sunday through Thursday night. Everyone agreed, and the child did earn the pizza delivery.

"We delivered the pizza to a hotel room where his mother was staying," Guevara recalled. "The child and his brother were waiting at the door. The mother was so impressed that we really came and brought them pizza that she worked very hard to get the kindergartener to school."

Sadly, this family is no longer together. The older son now resides in the home of the family with which he stayed, and the younger son lives with his father. The program helped to motivate their mother to support her children's attendance for some time, but she wasn't able to maintain it on a consistent basis. Stories like theirs underscore the importance of the program as an outreach effort to families as a whole.

Guevara believes that the Pizza Party Patrol works well in part because it is very organized. She locks in donations from the start and identifies a point person who will coordinate with the school at each donation site. Advertisements in school newsletters, school television, and announcements during meetings develop interest among the students and families. In June, the attendance committee reviews the program to measure its success.

"The committee members analyze the attendance data and look for improvement and trends. Then we determine what changes, if any, need to be made in our program," Guevara added.

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