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My son was getting desperate. Six inches of new snow had fallen, and he was down to loose change. He asked me if I thought it would work if he made a cardboard sign and stood in front of a busy store with the message "will work for ski pass."

The idea of a cardboard sign didn't really express the depth of his desperation. That morning he had even offered to do some chores and wash the car. The car business didn't fool me because I knew about his date and figured he'd wash the car whether I paid him or not. I also knew that accepting an offer to mow the lawn in three months was a bit risky.I weakened. "Your last report card was awesome. I'll spot you a one-day ski pass if I can tag along and you won't make fun of the wooden skis with cable bindings." I had weakened. I had paid off my son for good grades when I'm not really sure that I like the idea of paying for something that should be its own reward. On the other hand, maybe good schoolwork should be rewarded in the short run as it will be in the long run, with money.

During my school years, my parents had a standing financial offer if I ever brought home straight A's, and the offer did seem to motivate me at the first of each term. The financial motivation sounded good as I turned over the usual new leaf each term, but somehow the reward became distant enough that I would graciously slip at midterm and let my younger sister get the good grades. She needed them more than I did. My parents' offer was always safe with me.

If parents feel ambivalent about paying for good grades, they may have to swallow that ambivalence if they live in British Columbia. Paying for good grades is a government institution there. Maybe there is something in the B.C. practice that we should look at.

Students in B.C. public and independent schools are eligible for the Passport to Education program of scholarship credits. Each year, every student in grades nine through 12 receives a Passport to Education booklet. Students then work for scholarship stamps to fill the booklet.

The top 30 percent of the students in each grade get stamps for passports at the end of every school year. The stamps are awarded for academic performance, effort, work habits, citizenship and school or community involvement.

For the conscientious student, the Passport to Education program can add up. In Grade 9 students can earn up to $125 in stamps. The amount gets progressively higher each year. In Grade 10 it is possible to earn $175. The amount goes to $225 in Grade 11 and $275 in Grade 12. The senior year in not the best year to slack off.

Students can redeem their credits within five years of high school graduation at a university or college or approved job training program. The money must be used as a credit against tuition but can be in addition to any other financial aid or scholarship that the student may earn.

This can be a big boost for the good high school student. If a student has earned maximum passport stamps each year, the value of the Passport to Education program is $800. This is enough to take a little sting out of the cost of a college education. It may not be enough to make the difference between a student attending or not attending college, but is at least as useful as a day ski pass at Elk Meadows.

It occurred to me that a parent could devise a similar program on the home front. A contribution to a child's college savings account for good schoolwork may not be appreciated in the short run as much as a ski pass, but in the long run the rewards could accumulate enough in a passbook account to take at bit of the edge off college costs.

An option that might be better than the bank account is a U.S. savings bond. The interest is not taxable with the special college savings bonds. Perhaps even a better option is in the wings. Some are suggesting a kind of tax-exempt student IRA type program. Parents would receive a tax break as they plan for the future college education of their children by putting money in an IRA-type account.

In the short run, I may still opt for the ski pass. It is a way for me to benefit from my son's good grades and probably the cheapest way to buy a broken leg. After all the skis only cost $12 at the DI. I'm spending the rest on college tuition.

- Roger G. Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84627.