It was last Thursday that 14-year-old Nathan Harth got zapped again.

It happened in broad daylight. There were witnesses. His parents were informed right away, but what could they do for their recidivist son? Get zapped and you gotta face the music.

Getting zapped meant that Nathan wound up that day sitting in the media center of Coon Rapids Middle School, textbook spread open, at 4:15 p.m., more than an hour after school let out. Sitting at his table with Nathan were several buddies, one of whom got zapped by a teacher, the other two of whom zapped themselves.

Getting zapped at Coon Rapids Middle means you didn't do your homework and you have to make it up after school. This is the big feature of a new program called ZAP, an acronym for "Zeroes Aren't Possible." Its purpose is to target homework scofflaws, hand them orange "Zapped" tickets, have them call their parents immediately, and send them to a supervised study hall in the media center after school to make sure they get their assignments done.

Coon Rapids principal Michelle Langenfeld said she's aware of schools doing various things to improve homework completion, but knows of nothing quite like Coon Rapids Middle's program. And ZAP has yielded a dramatic uptick in grades.

Last Thursday, Nathan and his pals had plenty of company because about 150 kids got zapped that day.

Langenfeld has counted 616 of the school's 1,500 students as having gotten zapped since the school year began. More important, she's been watching grades. Last fall, the number of F's handed out in the school dropped to 87 from 500 in fall 2006. The number of D's dropped from 800 to 254 over the same time span. Perhaps the biggest indicator of success came in math.

"We did not have a single student in eighth-grade math fail math in the first quarter," Langenfeld said. "That's unheard of."

There's other evidence: Nathan Harth. Nathan said he was mostly making D's and F's at the beginning of the school year. Now, that's turned into B's and C's.

"If this program wasn't here, I would be failing horribly bad," he said.

The idea behind ZAP is this: Make it a schoolwide priority to have every student turn in every assignment, and take action immediately. Not only does homework account for part of a student's grades, but doing all the assignments also better prepares students for tests. That's no big revelation. The difference here is that ZAP is schoolwide; every teacher takes part, Langenfeld said.

"Many teachers were doing great things individually," said seventh-grade social studies teacher Ryan MacSwain. "But this has transformed the school culture a little bit. I would say that many teachers have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of homework done by students. Personally, it has happened to me, for sure." MacSwain figures that he might zap a student two to three times a week, though some teachers do it more often.

Cooper Middle has shown initiative before. In 2006, it was cited by the Standard & Poor's credit rating agency for boosting the performance of its low-income students. But, not wanting to rest on their laurels, members of the school's governing site council -- which includes parents, teachers and administrators --devised the ZAP program last summer. Langenfeld said parents have bought in to the program.

"They appreciate that they know that their child is missing an assignment," she said.

There's a safeguard to make sure the assignments not only get done, but also wind up in the record books; students must turn in their work along with their orange "Zapped' slip when they leave the media center. Those assignments are then gathered by the teachers and administrators assigned to oversee the program, and placed in the appropriate teachers' mailboxes.

Now, ZAP buttresses other school get-your-work-done programs before school, and during lunchtime. Not everyone who gets zapped has to be. Some are self-inflicted.

"I usually don't like doing my work at home," said eighth-grader Jon Higgins. "So I do it at school. I can't concentrate at home. There are too many TVs in the house."

Plus, there used to be plenty of students milling around outside the school or nearby once regular classes ended. With ZAP, that's no longer an issue, Langenfeld said.

Langenfeld said she wants to see more evidence that the program is working. That means following testing data to see if the scores show an upward trend.

"We're really excited to see what this means in the long term for kids," she said.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547