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The High School's Newest Seniors

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Officials of the Southwestern City School District, near Columbus, Ohio, wanted to keep their local taxpayers happy.

Like their counterparts in many districts around the country, they were worried about losing touch with a constituency that, more and more, was made up of older people whose own children were already grown.

So, three years ago, school leaders invited district residents who were 55 or older to join the newly created Top55 Club.

The club recruited 1,000 members during its first three months and has been signing up as many as 100 a month since then, officials say.

Top55 Club members can attend school plays, concerts, and sporting events and use the recreation facilities at the three local high schools free of charge, according to Don Miller, the program's coordinator. Many members keep in shape at the schools' tracks, saunas, basketball courts, and weight rooms.

Top55 is the district's way of saying "thank you'' to older residents who support the community's education system by paying taxes, he explained. The district spends about $2,000 a year from general funds to run the program, he added.

Club members receive a membership card, a quarterly newsletter, and a calendar of school events.

Although some other school districts make school facilities accessible to older community residents, Mr. Miller said the Top55 Club is unique in enlisting the participation of the business community.

By presenting their membership cards, Top55 participants, on certain days, can receive free gifts from a local florist or free desserts from any of the district's McDonald's restaurants. Members also are entitled to a free doughnut with a cup of coffee from certain coffee shops.

The club also sponsors a weekly breakfast in one of the school's recreation centers--an event that has become a "social gathering place'' for members, Mr. Miller said.

Students also benefit from the program, he said. For instance, pupils enrolled in the gifted-education program can turn to club members as information sources for research projects or to discuss career interests.

"By 1990, only 19 percent of all adults in this country will have kids in school,'' Mr. Miller observed. "We wanted people without children to get to know the students'' in their school district.

In addition, he said, "some of these people are looking for places to go,'' which makes the program especially attractive to them.--A.P.

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