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Making the bucks and the grade

Two fast-food restaurants that employ high school students have teamed up with a school principal to try to ensure that schoolwork takes priority over restaurant work. Within the next few weeks, employers at local Burger King and McDonald's restaurants will enter agreements with their employees who attend Gulf High. The students, employers and the school will agree that if the student/employee fails to keep up a grade point average of 1.5 or better, the employer will talk with the student and determine whether the student needs his work hours changed or perhaps cut back.

Employers will be notified when the students fall below the 1.5 average.

Students must have a 1.5 average to participate in athletics or many extracurricular activities, but there are no such restrictions for employment. A 1.5 grade average is equal to a D- on a scale where 4.0 is an A. The program, designed by Gulf High principal Coy Pigman, is being tried on a limited basis, with only one high school and two restaurants participating so far. One reason is that school officials want to see how the program works. Another reason is that it is difficult to get employers involved in such a program.

"I'm real pleased to have McDonald's and Burger King participating," Pigman said. "Now, if we can only get the grocery stores to participate. You see, they live and die on part-time labor."

Pigman said he has long been concerned that several of his students have put school on the back burner while working to keep up with car payments or to earn spending money. He said it is easy for students to lose track of their priorities, spending more time than they should at work and neglecting school.

A survey Pigman conducted last school year indicated that most students who work are able to keep up their grades, but dozens are not. He said the survey indicated that the majority of students who worked and had grade point averages below 1.5 were freshmen and sophomores. He surmised that those students tended to drop out before their junior and senior years.

The principal has discovered that he is not alone in his concern.

"In a situation like that, students are kind of cheating themselves," said Butch Jalbert, senior district manager for the Burger King restaurants in Pasco. "They get used to that dollar bill and lose track of priorities.

"We're going to try to help them so they don't fall behind," he said. Jalbert said three of his restaurants in the area near Gulf High - one each in New Port Richey, Elfers and Holiday - would participate in the program. He said he did not know how many Gulf High students worked at his stores.

The other restaurant that will participate in the program is the McDonald's in Elfers. Owner Bob Brickman said he hopes that with some input from the school, he can keep his student/employees from falling too far behind.

"A lot of times, the first reaction is to say, 'The job is getting in the way. You have to quit the job,' " Brickman said. "If we are notified when a student is falling behind, we can help the student and nip the problem in the bud."