For most students, working hard in school is just about getting A's. But for students at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, it's also about getting Benjamins.
That's because the school principal is routinely handing out $100 bills to students who demonstrate academic excellence. And he's making no apologies about it.
"When you're an athlete, you get recognized more, you get trophies, jackets, patches and all those kinds of things," Harold Clay, the principal of Edna Karr, told A Plus. "The message tends to get lost about academics and is more for the 'jock,' if you will."
But Clay and his staff are changing that idea, and they're changing it quickly. The program is designed to both motivate students to perform and make it "cooler" to succeed in things that aren't athletics.
"I don't know how your high school experience was, but the quarterback typically got the girl and not the 4.0 genius," Clay said. "So I'm saying to my kids you can be the quarterback or the 4.0 genius and you'll still stand out. People won't tease you for it, you should poke your chest out a little bit more and say I'm just as valuable as the MVP on the football or basketball team."
On Friday, Clay gave out $100 bills to "33 students who had GPAs of 4.0 or higher," according to a local CBS news station. But money isn't all they got.
Almost 400 students who had GPAs higher than 3.5 were also honored, some of them receiving varsity jackets with letter patches in the style a football or basketball player might get. Clay said that last year, when the program was announced, students went nuts.
"I wish I would have filmed it, to be honest," Clay said with a laugh. "When kids are seeing other kids get checks for their academic success, you get an explosion like a pep rally and then you have kids coming up to me and teachers saying, 'I'm getting the check next year,' 'I'm getting that jacket next year,' 'I'm getting that patch next year.'"
And he's right. In a short segment that aired on the local CBS News Station (video below), students explain how they got motivated to get the jacket or money.
"Last year I didn't get one and I was pretty mad about it and this year I worked really hard to get it because I really wanted one," Karr student Eyrie Toliver said in the video.
Clay's philosophy is rather simple: treat education the same way we treat our athletic programs — reward participants with things like financial success or varsity jackets — and it'll breed competition. He thinks of it along the same lines as a student getting college scholarships for academic performance: it's compensation for doing well in school. The money comes mostly from the student activity fund, and they put aside a little bit to make sure they can fund the rewards program for the upcoming year.
"I'm not diminishing sports," Clay said. "I played football and tennis, so I know the value of having kids with opportunities from the band to athletics. But, I also understand that I'm charged with the responsibility of making sure they understand the value of their education and the opportunities that are going to come from that."