Children are often told by adults that going to school every day not only will enrich their minds, but could also result in tangible gifts in the future.
That future arrived Thursday, thanks to Tischer Acura of Laurel, which donated new bicycles and helmets to 166 seventh-grade students at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School for achieving perfect attendance this school year.
“We’ve never had this many kids at the entire school … with perfect attendance,” said Ronald Dortch, president of the school’s parent teacher student association. “It is great. We did the count three times just to make sure we didn’t make a mistake.”
Twin sisters Hilce and Hilea Herring, 13, walked onstage during the special assembly to pick out their bikes, carried them off the stage, stood by their father to inspect them and smiled.
“I’m very proud of them,” said their father, Hilton Herring. “It’s like Christmas in the summer.”
Because of the overwhelming number of students who maintained perfect attendance at the school this year, vouchers were given Thursday to claim a bike free of charge at a local Wal-Mart.
Tischer’s contribution totaled almost $16,000, which dealership owner Danny Sauro said was money well-spent.
“Rather than just writing a check, we came up an idea that would make a difference,” Sauro said to the students inside the cafeteria. “In business, you have to structure for expenses so I put away money to buy [about 60] bikes. I was excited and happy and surprised to see that 166 of you made a good decision. You made some really good choices and I’m proud of you.”
Josephine Dallas couldn’t take a bike home for her son, Daniel Pearson, 13, because he needs one higher than 26 inches.
That didn’t bother Daniel.
“I’m going to camp and will be riding my new bike in the summer,” said Daniel, who likes to eat watermelon and green beans to keep healthy. “I set a mindset that [perfect attendance] is something I wanted to achieve. I can achieve something if I try hard and do what I’m supposed to do.”
According to Prince George’s County Public Schools’ bylaws, students receive attendance credit even when they arrive late or leave early for a doctor’s appointment, student illness or other reasons deemed appropriate by a principal.
The school system lists a variety of student benefits of good attendance such as higher grades, increased self-respect and more college and post-secondary education options.
State law not only mandates school attendance for children ages 5 to 16, but parents and guardians could be fined for students consistently absent.
Thursday’s assembly at the school of 940 students targeted the seventh-grade class, said Eisenhower Principal John Mangrum, who added that group of roughly 350 students is the largest segment of the school’s student population at 37 percent.
Various data and studies cite middle school as one of most difficult phases for students, specifically seventh-graders as they learn to become more independent and socially accepted by their peers.
Mangrum praised the parents, teachers and staff that helped shatter the school’s perfect-attendance record by more than 100 students.
“Seventh-grade year is that transitional year. You see a lot of struggles in student development, so this was definitely a great incentive for them,” he said. “They come into the building and want to be here every day. They just need the guidance and love and support that educators are trying to give them every single day.”