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Rewards Not Awards

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Recently, fellow reporter Taylor Centner and I traveled to the Elbridge Elementary School to interview the principal Mr. Hartwell. Though busy on the day of the Halloween parade, he made some time for us, which we were grateful for. Prepared with our questions, we sat in his office and had a very positive conversation about the elementary’s new rewards system.

Taylor and I began, clearly mentioning our interest in the award system. Immediately, we were corrected.

“It’s a rewards system, not an awards system,” Mr. Hartwell said.

Surprised by the comment, we asked Mr. Hartwell to further explain. From what we understood, students are being rewarded for positive behavior, not awarded for nothing. It’s a give and take system, and it’s pretty evident throughout the rest of our conversation.

“(The rewards system) is an evolving process,” he says. Originally started by actual teachers in Elementary, the system highlights good behavior, is self sustaining, and further pushes students to succeed. Students who are consistently seen as well behaved, or who simply performed a positive, note-worthy action are rewarded specific SOAR-ING (Safety first, Offer Respect, Acts of Kindness, Responsibility and Teamwork) tickets by the principle, teachers, and even bus drivers. Students then are allowed to use the tickets to gain donated prizes and rewards of their choice. According to Mr. Hartwell, these tickets are given “by hundreds a day.” There are also “golden tickets.” Golden tickets are given not to one student, but a whole class for behaving well. Not only are kids behaving well, but it’s a contributing factor to higher achievement on states tests, as well as better classroom environments. It doesn’t stop there, folks. This rewards system is also extending into local daycares, like the “Country Care Daycare” and the YMCA because of its success.

“(Student behavior is) way better and it’s supported by the data,” says Mrs. Fanning, a current teacher at the Elementary school.

Now, with all this good behavior rewarding, what’s happening with kids who aren’t so well behaved? Unfortunately, there are still students with not-so-good behavior and frequent office visits, but the amount has definitely decreased. Instead of punishment though, these students are shown models of good behavior, a comparison of right and wrong, in hopes of improving the student’s future behavior. Even when scolded, or pointed out as having negative behavior, tickets are never taken away. This new form of “punishment,” if it can be called that, creates a better focus in the classroom, supporting both students and teachers.

What happens if there’s too much good behavior, if there is such a thing? What happens when too many kids are receiving tickets?

Mr. Hartwell gave the best response possible:

“(Too much good behavior is) a problem we hope to encounter” and “(We’ll) never stop highlighting good behavior.”

With all the mention of rewards, Taylor and I began to wonder where they all were, so Mr. Hartwell took us on a trip to the stage in the cafeteria where all of the tangible prizes are kept. From yoyos, to giant stuffed animals, hats and mittens, and books (my personal favorite and apparently a favorite of the little ones too,) students are able to choose from a variety of options, but surprisingly the tangible items aren’t as important as non-tangible prizes. For example, extra recess. All tangible prizes are donated and at no cost to the school.

“If you just ask, people will donate away,” says Mr. Hartwell.

With the end of our tour, Taylor and I were in awe. Thank you to Mr. Hartwell and the staff/students for explaining this wonderful system. We hope its success continues. Maybe we could consider it in the highschool!

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