Its report card day in Chetopa, Kan., and 11-year-old April Wheeler licks her lips as she plans her after-school treat.
Im going to put caramel on my apples, says April, a sixth-grader at Chetopa School, which students attend from kindergarten through high school in the community of 1,303.
These arent just any apples, though. They are 5-pound bags of apples awarded every grading period by grocer Stuart Warwick to students who earn an A in math. Warwicks late father, Willard, started the sweet tradition in 1960, and now a second-generation of students count on apples from Warwicks Food Center when report cards are released.
Dad was always so civic-minded and interested in children, says Warwick, 45. He knew that math and science were the basis for a good education, and he thought this would be a neat promotion.
With a shy grin, Lindsey Pease, 7, shows Warwick her perfect grades.
Great job, Lindsey, the burly grocer says as he gives her a hug and a bag of apples. Beaming nearby is mother Stephanie Pease, 34, who used to show up at the apple bin with her report card to claim her bag of apples from Warwicks father, who died in 1992.
Its really a big deal, says Pease. The kids really look forward to this. At her house, the rewards are baked into a pie.
The tradition has added upor multiplied, if you preferto thousands of pounds of apples being given away to kindergarteners through sixth-graders over the last 40 years.
When asked the cost, Warwick shrugs. Hes never calculated it, but he gives away as many as 100 bags of apples four times a year. The math works out to 40 tons of apples given away over the decades. This year, 152 students are enrolled in the Chetopa elementary grades, according to Principal Jim Buttram, so the proportion getting As in math is high.
As soon as some of the kids get their grade cards, they go, All right! I got my apples, says Buttram. You wouldnt think a bag of apples would mean that much, but its tradition here.
Last year when Buttram taught third grade, he recalls one boy got a score of 88 in matha B-plus on his card.
He was so upset and disappointed that he didnt get his bag of apples. This is a real motivator for the kids, says Buttram. Next time the boy earned a 96 in math.
This is Shantel Guinns last year to earn apples. I think it helps the little kids try harder, says the 11-year-old. One of those little kids is her brother Mark, 6, who wrestles a wiggly bag of apples under one arm while clutching his report card.
Ruth Carter, who taught first grade for 20 years, agrees that the younger students especially get a kick out of the free apples. More than once, shes had a grade A apple polished and plunked on her desk.
My granddaughter is in second grade here, and we always make fried apples with her bag, she says. The program is a good example of how the businesses, parents, and teachers all work together in Chetopa, Carter says.
Ten years ago, the students planted an apple tree in the schoolyard to honor the Warwick family, which has been at the core of the community since Stuarts grandfather opened the store in 1909.
Stuart briefly considered another career after college, but the lure of the family business kept him home with the store where hed been helping since age 6, sorting pop bottles and sweeping floors.
I certainly have no regrets about staying, he says. He and his wife, Penny, have one daughter, Anna Beth, 2 1/2, who already knows how to count.
Im just sorry that Dad cant be around to be the one to check her first report card, he says. But Ill make sure my baby girl earns plenty of Warwick apples.