The carrot dangling on the end of the stick of the Hesperia Junior High School's Overtime Club is the social interaction portion of the three-hour, after-school program. But what students are getting from the program is much more than just fun with their schoolmates.


"I've seen kids become leaders," said Cheryle Smith, the school's Overtime coordinator. "They become more respectful of each other."


In some cases, the transformation means dramatically improved grades.


"I've seen student GPA's go from 1.75 to 3.50."


That's because students whose behavior sends them to detention or suspension aren't allowed to attend Overtime. And the program provides an hour of homework time, which ensures they're not getting behind in their studies.


"We're instilling in them that homework is important," Smith said, "and I think that's great."


On Thursday afternoon, Smith, the more than 200 Overtime Club members, instructors and Hesperia dignitaries gathered for a celebration in the school's multi-purpose room to acknowledge the program's success. The event was part of participating school's Lights On Celebration, which occurred simultaneously throughout California.


"I truly love the program you have here," said Ella "Lee" Rogers, vice-president of the school district's board of education. "This school's academic scores (API) just went out of sight. I believe this program is part of the reason."


Mayor Thurston "Smitty" Smith also commended Overtime for offering a "safe place for kids to learn."


"It's very important that residents stay involved with their kids," he said.


After the presentations, the students enjoyed awards, food and games. There was a duct tape fashion show, poetry contest, chess tournament and rock band competition. In addition, students had the opportunity to have the face painted, bowl or throw wet sponges at Principal Robert McCollum.


The program, which is funded by a grant, is free to students, compared to an average of $67 per week for similar programs.


The HJHS Overtime Club began three years ago with 138 students. Last year enrollment shot up to 259. When school started in August, enrollment was 42 percent higher than last year's first week, according to Smith.


"It's always exciting as a teacher to see when students 'get it,'" Smith said.