Trading cards are back in fashion at some Atlantic County, N.J., elementary schools - but these cards don't carry your typical sports stars. Instead, they feature 42 high school juniors and seniors who excel in academics and school activities.
To land a spot on an All-Star Trading Card, a high-schooler must maintain a 2.5 grade-point average, be involved in school and community activities, be a positive role model, and remain drug- and alcohol-free.
Elementary school students, in turn, receive the cards as a reward for things like good grades, attendance, essay contests, and spelling bees. Once they collect five cards, they're rewarded with a free lunch at Pizza Hut with the all-star of their choice (escorted by a police officer, of course).
Nicholas Scull, a junior at Wildwood High School, acknowledges he was a bit uncertain about having his mug shot passed around elementary school halls.
But he quickly changed his mind. "Kids come up to me all the time on the street and say, 'I got your trading card, I got your trading card,' and it makes you feel good," he says.
Nicholas's stats, such as school activities and college goals, are listed on the back of his card. He says he was surprised when the younger kids asked him about his varsity football and tennis teams as often as they asked about his grades and role as class president.
"I just tell them you have to study hard, practice hard, and you can't be getting in trouble. They buy it real quick," he says.
Christina Harshaw, an eighth-grader, also likes the program. She taped the two cards she collected this year on the inside of her locker and looks at them every day. One bears the photo of Marie Miller, a senior who plays soccer and basketball just like Christina.
"It makes me aspire to be more like Marie. I hope to take her position on the teams soon," she says.
That's what Betty Harshaw, the public relations coordinator for the Wildwood school system, was hoping for when she designed the program two years ago. Last year, she handed out 2,200 cards, and 130 students qualified for the free lunch. "Younger students don't get enough interaction with older kids, or with positive role models," she says.