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Swag for honor roll students: New businesses wanted for Gold Program rewards

LAPLACE — Schools in St. John the Baptist Parish follow a student reward system not replicated anywhere else in the country, according to organizers.

Longtime school board member Clarence Triche began the Gold and Silver Card Award Program 23 years ago to celebrate high achieving students with freebies, discounts and other forms of recognition among businesses in the community.

Open to all students in first through 12th grade on the principal’s list or A/B honor roll, the program has participation from close to 60 businesses. What children receive is at the discretion of the vendor, whether it’s free popcorn at Acadiana Cinemas or 25 percent off a fast food order.

All that’s required of a business is to offer a token of appreciation and hang a Gold and Silver Award sign. Unfortunately, Triche said not every business has survived, and more participation is needed to keep the award system thriving for generations to come.

New Orleans Hamburger & Seafood and Burkes Outlet are among the approximately 15 contributing businesses that have closed in the past couple of years, according to Triche.

“It’s so difficult to see them close,” Triche said. “We want more participation because it’s very important for businesses and education to work together. We’re preparing their future employees.”

A former educator of 24 years, Triche believes in giving students the motivation they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

“When I was in school, I was as lazy a person as you could find,” Triche said. “I made grades just good enough so my daddy wouldn’t kill me. I thought there must be something we can do to encourage these kids to do a little more. If I have to bribe little kids to make good grades, I will.”

The initiative started with public schools. It expanded after a little girl from St. Joan of Arc walked up to Triche, glasses framing her puppy dog eyes as she asked if she could receive a card for her straight-A report card.

Today, businesspeople in the community stop to tell Triche they remember using the cards when they were growing up.

Domino’s Pizza assistant manager Justin Stein had an Award Card through all his years of schooling. He recalls his card giving him $1 movie days at the theater and free ice cream from fast food restaurants back in the 1990s.

“It was small stuff, but it made it feel like everyone appreciates you working hard and doing your best in school,” Stein said. “I’m hoping kids today appreciate it like I did.”

Triche, 78, said his biggest hope is for a service organization to take on the project that’s become his heart when he’s no longer able to.

“I’d love to have someone like Rotary or the Lions Club do it,” Triche said. “If I drop it, it’s probably going to be the end of it, and the kids deserve a lot more than what we’re giving them.”