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Honor rolls put students on ski slopes

When grades came out at the end of fall term, Jeff Morrey didn't make the honor roll. No surprise for the junior at American Fork High. Morrey never made honor roll. He was used to C's and D's.

Then, one day in early December, Morrey heard about the ski passes. Kids at his school, kids he knew, got free season passes for being on the honor roll. Morrey figured he'd have another chance, come January, to earn a ski pass at The Canyons in Park City. He decided to try.Now he thinks he's got it. He needed a 3.7 for honor roll at his school; he was looking at a 3.69 before he turned in his extra credit report in P.E.

Ski pass or not, this will be the first report card in a long time he's been proud to show his mom, he says. His mom said, "We are absolutely floored."

Mike Grass, communications manager at The Canyons, hears lots of success stories lately. Sporting their report cards and a parent (to sign the release), students have come to Park City from as far away as Vernal and Tropic.

The resort made the offer to thousands of youngsters - every junior and senior high honor student in the state. They didn't count on quite so many accepting, Grass says. There is room on the mountain for everyone, he adds, but the logistics of the giveaway are more complicated than he planned.

Soon the schools will turn in the names of students who fell off the honor roll at the end of the second term. Their passes won't be accepted.

In early December, before the season started, more than 4,000 students - from 200 different schools - received a pass. Grass says he'll have the final count in a few weeks, and the number will be much higher than 4,000.

Grass says the resort owner, American Skiing Co., decided to offer passes for two reasons: First, the company is new to Utah and wanted to become better-known in the community. Second, it can only be good for business if the next generation learns to ski and snowboard.

The season passes are one of the latest - and one of the largest - in a series of bonuses and rewards - giveways for grades. Purveyors of pizza, yogurt, soft drinks, plane trips and basketball tickets have all given rewards to Utah students. Some reward good grades; some recognize improvement.

According to Eileen Rencher, spokeswoman for the State Office of Education, the next statewide incentive will come from KTVX. Television marketers offered to gather a series of coupons from fast-food outlets. The coupons will be given to teachers to distribute as they wish - for behavior, grades or effort.

The state does have some restrictions on incentives. Said Rencher, "We don't want two-for-one deals or any reward that requires parents to spend money."

But, in fact, parents do spend money. Some will shop at the grocery store that offers donations to their local PTA. Others will buy the rest of the family a pizza because they happen to be at Pizza Hut anyway while their third-grader redeems his read-a-thon reward.

When parents talk about these grade incentives, someone will occasionally ask a Scrooge-like question: Are material rewards really such a good idea?

Ask Roger Baker, who teaches writing at Brigham Young University, and he'll sigh over the complexity. On one hand, he says, such rewards are no different from grandma saying, "Eat your spinach and I'll give you a cookie." On the other hand, Baker asks, "Do you pay your children for getting A's?"

He doesn't. Still, Baker's daughter is a happy winner of a ski pass.

The assistant principal at Vernal Junior High, Kent Bunderson, says he likes The Canyons' offer because most kids didn't know about it until after they won.

"It was a true gift," he said, a gift to kids who have probably been on the honor roll forever.

Adults love to say, "Education is its own reward," points out Melinda Rock, spokeswoman for the Jordan School District. In reality, districts don't have any money for extras, and teachers are always looking for learning incentives. She said, "We obviously appreciate the support we get from the business community." At the same time, Rock talks about a fine line.

Currently, the district is studying the ethical implications of vending machines, wondering how to decide and who should decide which products to carry. It's a quandary. Said Rock, "We are in the business of teaching children. Not marketing products."

Meanwhile, the snow is good this year. At The Canyons, student season passes go for $325. No small gift. Parents and principals are, in general, grateful. And if it is, as one school secretary pointed out, "a marketing scheme," then that's OK, too, say those who earned one.

Dick Miles of Bountiful agrees it's a marketing idea. A great one. He has two girls in high school, a son in junior high; all three received passes.

He said, "They were already on the honor rolls so this hasn't necessarily made my kids better students. But it has made them feel like their reward comes from someone besides their family." It's as if the community values them, too.