LAND O'LAKES — Tyler Minnick showed off his school-issued yellow rubber bracelet with pride.
It bore just two words — "on track." To Minnick, it represented more than a wrist accessory.
It meant he had earned enough credits to be on the way to an on-time graduation while also meeting his school's attendance, discipline and grade-point expectations. With that came the reward of being able to go to the media center without a signed pass, a real prize for this avid reader who admits to often losing his paper library passes.
"It's really helpful," the Land O'Lakes High senior said of his school's new incentive program. "It's hitting the point where it's giving me the slap on the back to get going, even work for a blue ('highly on track') wristband."
Year in and year out, Land O'Lakes High consistently has ranked among Pasco County's top performers when it comes to graduation rates and other academic markers. That didn't stop school leaders from striving for even better.
Upon her arrival at the school, assistant principal Kathy Leeper got the assignment of creating a program to motivate students to higher levels. Leeper had helped design a tracking and incentive system at Ridgewood High School, making her the natural choice.
One of the first things she recognized was that adults shouldn't come up with the plan on their own. At Ridgewood, she said, "We sat around and said, 'These are things that kids will love.' They said, 'These are lame.' "
Knowing that close to 85 percent of the student body already was on track for graduation, the idea of enlisting the students to learn what would get them to aim higher made perfect sense. Leeper convened focus groups, conducted surveys and sought other forms of input over a year.
"Slow and right is better than fast," she said.
Sophomore Sarah Oberfeldt sat on a summertime committee that helped create the privilege band program that Land O'Lakes launched in late October. She said the students listened to administrators' ideas, refining some, outright nixing others such as the paper punch card program that Leeper used at Ridgewood.
Wrist bands are easy to wear, not too childish, and difficult to destroy, which made them the right choice, Oberfeldt said. With a good mix of incentives, including discounted prom tickets and early dismissal from seventh period, the project seemed like it could take off.
"It motivates you to do better," she said. "It encourages you and shows the school is wanting you to improve your behavior."
The next step was to distribute the bands and hope the buzz among students would be positive. Senior Deionte Strozier, one of the first to receive a band, said the initial reaction has been welcoming.
Friends have asked Strozier where he got his band, and how they could get one too. He told them to earn it, just as he did.
"It means a lot to let me know I can keep going and I'm on path to graduate," said Strozier, who did not expect to get a band because of some missteps he took as a freshman. "I think it's useful."
Senior Hayley Viers said she only wished the school had the system in place when she entered as a freshman.
She took International Baccalaureate courses and didn't always put her best effort into the work. As a result, she said, her GPA suffered, something she's dealing with now as college approaches.
"If had this and I had looked at (my progress) every quarter, I would have done better," Viers said. A brightly colored privilege band on your wrist is "a constant reminder."
One that students can have taken away if they don't stay on track in all the monitored areas. A loss of the band would also mean no more access to rewards such as lunch line fast passes, weekly front row parking passes, outdoor lunch seating and more.
Senior Tommy Henriquez said he liked the program's benefits, both academic and social, and figured it would have its desired effect.
"It shows other classes to look forward to something, do the right thing and see what you can receive," Henriquez said. "I think it's good. Great."
The school started handing out the bands to eligible seniors first, taking time to see how the project works and what kinks need to be worked out. Other classes are scheduled to receive their bands in the weeks leading up to winter break.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.