In 1991, actress and country music legend Dolly Parton and The Dollywood Foundation decided to address the high school dropout rate in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.
According to her website: “In the early 1990s, there was a dropout problem in Sevier County schools. Over 30% of all students never graduated a decision which not only crippled their own lives but made it increasingly difficult for Sevier County to prosper.”
Research from The Dollywood Foundation suggested that many students’ decisions about whether to graduate were rooted in their experiences in seventh and eighth grades. So it made sense to target these students for special encouragement. Parton herself suggested a monetary award.
The Buddy Program, as it came to be called, was announced to students that same year.
Her website explains: “In 1991, seventh and eighth-grade students were invited to a special assembly in the newly built Dolly Parton Celebrity Theatre at Dollywood…Dolly told the students that day she wanted each of them to choose a Buddy, and if they didn’t have a Buddy, she would find one for them. She went on to make a very special announcement: she offered to personally give $500 to each and every student in the seventh and eighth grades if they graduated from high school. However, there was one additional requirement: each student’s Buddy must graduate as well, and they had to sign a contract to pledge to do everything they could to make sure both graduated.”
The reward ensured that students would be both encouraged to graduate and stay accountable to one another in order to receive the money. And it worked!
The dropout rate went from 30% to 6%. – WTF Fun Facts