About Utah: Garffs know incentives work

Published: Sunday, Oct. 20 2013 10:40 p.m. MDT

Conversations with education insiders — teachers, counselors, principals, superintendents, parents — confirmed their suspicions. The universal complaint they heard from these educators was that most programs forced them to do things a certain way rather than giving him the tools they needed to work out their own solutions. They wanted help, not mandates.

All this feedback paved the way for the Garffs' original car-giveaway program known as Keys to Success.

At first, the idea was to give away a used car to one lucky student whose name would be pulled out of a hat at an end-of-the-year drawing held at each participating high school. All students who satisfied “Key” requirements — such as a certain grade point average or enrollment in math or science classes or achieving a high attendance — would be eligible for the drawing.

Over time, the Keys program transformed into what it is today. Five new cars are given away statewide in an end-of-the-year drawing, along with more than 30,000 additional Key-connected prizes, including iPads, ski passes, tickets to professional and collegiate sporting events, movie passes, restaurant gift certificates — you name it — that are awarded at various intervals during the school year. More than 250 college scholarships are also awarded annually.

The monetary value of all these incentives adds up to well beyond $1 million.

Some 65 Utah high schools and 115,000 students have signed up this year. There is absolutely no cost to the schools and no administrative work. All details and follow-up are handled by a staff headed by Rick Folkerson of the Garff Automotive Group. And school principals, counselors and faculty have complete control of the program. It is entirely up to them how to use the hundreds of Keys they are given to motivate their students.

Typically — and no one disagrees this is the program’s intended greatest strength — the schools use the Keys program to motivate kids who are not the academic all-stars, who don’t bring home straight A’s on their report cards, who aren’t already on the honor roll.

“The A students are motivated already,” Bob Garff says. “The focus is on the majority of kids who could use some motivation, all the way down the ranks to the at-risk kids.”

Follow-up studies show that students who earn Key cards raise their GPAs on average by more than half a point; significantly improve their scores on the standardized language, math and science exams, and average 1.4 points higher on their ACT college entrance exams.

The success of the Keys program inspired another Garff-initiated program aimed at elementary school students called Road to Success.

The Road program, which began in 2007, rewards students for consistent reading. When grade-school kids reach reading goals that they and their teachers have established, they become eligible for savings certificates and a wide variety of prizes; plus, their names go into an end-of-the-year grand-prize drawing.

But since elementary school kids can’t drive, their incentive isn’t cars.

It’s bicycles.

Every year, 1,000 lucky kids — make that lucky kids who have been reading at least five times a week all year long — win a bike, scooter or iPod.

This year, 246 elementary schools throughout the state, comprising more than 165,000 students, are participating in Road to Success, again, at no cost to the schools and with complete autonomy for principals and teachers to run the program as they see fit.

The success of the Road program isn’t as easy to quantify in the short run as it is with the Keys program. What is easily identifiable is thousands more kids reading more often and at an earlier age, greatly increasing their chances of success as they continue in school. “Reading is the basic, the fundamental of all learning,” says Kathi Garff. “First you learn to read and then you read to learn.”

Stories. The Keys to Success and Road to Success programs have as many stories as they have prizes to give away.

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