The 180 seventh-graders inside Ada Junior High auditorium Tuesday had a touch of apathy on their faces.
After all, they’d just eaten.
Getting out of class for a while was nice, but at what price, they wondered, as they filed into their seats?
Ada optometrist Dr. John Garber woke them up.
He offered them a trip to London, England. Just give him straight A’s for the next four years and it’s a done deal.
Nobody sleeps through a Garber presentation.
He offered them the deal of a lifetime.
They would fly across a huge pond — the Atlantic Ocean. They would see the sights, hear historic yarns, and, yes, walk on foreign soil.
Garber told them “this was the only class” he intended to make this deal with, giving the students instant hallway bragging rights.
No other class in Ada, or America, has this opportunity, the kids were told.
“Only you!” Garber said.
He asked if any of them had ever been told they were special.
Most raised their hands. Garber was about to give them a chance to prove it. All they have to do to earn the London trip is commit to making straights A’s for the next four years in the Ada school system.
You could read, “Four years is a long time,” on some young faces, “but maybe.”
Garber explained his own motivation for dangling this diamond in front of them.
He told them the story about his late wife, Alice Garber, who had taught school for many years inside those same walls.
He told them how much she loved the kids at Ada Junior High.
He wanted to help them remember her by forming this club in her honor: Mrs. A. Garber’s Straight A Club.
This man standing before them was trying to clear a path for their future by improving classroom performance.
The straight A’s will count toward the goal beginning with the fall semester of their eighth grade year and continuing until spring break of their junior year in high school.
By then, he figures they will know why it’s important to make good grades.
He told them of the doors that would be opening for them, the college scholarships, the high quality jobs.
Most of these kids don’t drink and smoke, and Garber told them he never had, either.
By his own math, he said he had saved himself $150,000 by not imbibing and not puffing.
Not only that, he was putting $40,000 of those savings into a special bank account, so the kids could all go to London for six days in 2018.
Not only can they go, those who qualify will be allowed to select two teachers to accompany them on the journey.
Garber and his wife, Mary, who is vice president of finance at Mercy Hospital Ada, will be right there in London with them.
In fact, Garber said he plans to lead them on a fast-paced tour of all things British.
Mary Garber promised he will wear them out with his crowded itinerary as they walk the streets of London. They will ride double-decker red buses, see castles, etc.
Naturally, every kid in the building wants to qualify for the trip.
There are caveats.
The classes have to be advanced classes when possible.
Garber admitted to the kids the classes would be more difficult, but he promised they’d learn a lot more, too.
A few kids grimaced.
If a student falters by a letter grade in an advanced class, that’s OK because a B is as good as an A in a regular class, Garber told them.
If, by chance, a student falters in normal subjects and has up to two B’s, he or she still might have a chance to win a hat lottery. If he, or she, is very lucky, he or she might still get a seat on the plane.
The safest way to assure a London trip, of course, is to make straight A’s.
“The potential rewards of straight A’s in regard to college scholarships, self-determination and quality of employment opportunities are the primary goals, that in reality supersede the excitement of the London trip,” Garber said in a prepared statement.
“The trip is solely an incentive; however, it introduces the teenagers to foreign travel, culture, currency, history, museums, castles, geography, and economics; and hopefully lets them see the benefits of hard work and academic success.”
For those who aren’t used to having such high expectations dangled in front of them, Garber told them a story about his early academic career.
“You’re looking at what was once a first-class slacker,” he told the students. “When I was your age, I was making C’s and D’s. And that’s the truth.”
With no alternative to escape boredom, he began to focus on his studies. Suddenly, he had a report card worth showing — three A’s and three B’s.
His dad was so proud, or relieved, he paid his son $1 per A.
Garber was hooked on learning and the rewards that come with good grades.
When he asked the students how many thought they could make straight As for the next four years, about two-thirds raised their hands.
The safest way to make this happen, he told the students, was to just make straight A’s the rest of the way.
Contact staff writer Art Lawler at firstname.lastname@example.org