The Georgia Lottery's got nothing on the McDuffie County School System Renaissance Program when it comes to big prizes and bettering education.
Thomson High students had a prize-filled Wednesday last week during the annual junior class cook-out and the year-end Renaissance Program awards ceremony and walked away with prizes including a free car, $400 Best Buy gift cards, iPods, televisions and class rings.
"You live in the United States of America, and you can do anything you want to do," Mark Boyd, the general manager of Stokes-Hodges GM of Thomson, told the students right before the car drawing. "You can achieve anything, so go out there and have a great life, and somebody is about to enjoy a car."
"Somebody" turned out to be Chris Bowick, a sophomore who had complained a few minutes earlier to his teacher that he didn't want to attend the rally because he wouldn't win anything.
"Just before we left to come out there, he was saying 'I'm not going to win a car.' Then they pulled his name, and he had to eat them words," said Barry Arrington, the construction teacher.
Chris wasn't the only one who was skeptical. His own mother had trouble believing the too-good-to-be-true news.
"I thought he was lying," Sheila Bowick said when she walked into the high school office. "What would anyone think when their child calls and says 'you need to come to the school?' I'm just shocked, although he doesn't give me a minute's trouble."
Chris said he "wasn't expecting to win" because he only had 10 tickets in the drawing. Each student was awarded tickets throughout the year for academics, behavior, attendance, attitude and participation in extra-curricular activities.
All tickets were entered in a drawing for a 1993 burgundy Grand Am, donated by Stokes-Hodges. The contest, dubbed "Where There's a Wheel, There's a Way" was introduced last July by Superintendent Mark Petersen. All high school students could be eligible. However, their tickets could be revoked for minor offenses such as skipping class, disciplinary referrals or failing classes.
"It couldn't have happened to a better guy," said Michael Smallwood, the vocational assistant principal. "(Chris) is a team player, a hard worker, and he never asks for any recognition."
Other prizes given away during the Renaissance Recognition were iPods to freshmen Brittany Hobbs and Laura Rogillio; 2009 class rings, donated by Balfour to sophomores Mackenzie Mullins and Lora Thornton; $100 worth of 2008 graduation invitations and announcements to juniors Jordan Lewis and Elizabeth Newman; and $400 Best Buy gift cards to seniors Crystal Palmer and Justin Gunn.
Before the Renaissance Rally, the junior class had its annual cookout for students who passed four out of the five tests of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests on the first attempt. The tests are used to measure adequate yearly progress throughout Georgia under the No Child Left Behind legislation. To earn a diploma, students must pass all five areas of the tests, which include writing assessment, English/language arts, mathematics, social studies and science. T-shirts were given to each student who passed all five of the tests.
During the cook-out, four 32-inch televisions were given away in a drawing to Jasmine Garmett, Bob Brunson, Casey Brooks and Taylor Morey.
The cook-out, t-shirts and televisions were paid for by revenues from the school's concession stand.
"You spend the money here, so it only makes sense that we spend it back on you," Principal Rudy Falana said to the students during the drawings.
Juniors who passed four of the GHSGT with a 516 or higher on each test were given platinum cards. Platinum card holders received coupons and gift certificates from local and national businesses. The list of platinum card holders and prizes will be listed in next week's edition of The Mirror.
According to Mr. Falana, the Renaissance Program is a great success at the high school. Mr. Falana said the program encourages students to improve their grades and build up their character through good behavior and positive choices. Mr. Falana said discipline referrals at the school "are down significantly, a decrease of approximately 500 for the year from 2005-06."