Incentive program improves CR student performance

A student enjoys the middle school's fall merit trip, a carnival that included learning to make apple crisp, a haunted house, an obstacle course, and more. Nearly 95% of students qualified for the October merit trip. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Clayton Ridge Middle School students have more opportunities for excitement outside the classroom than ever before. Picnics, hiking, movies, carnivals, ski trips – all of these adventures are made possible by a discipline plan that includes incentives for positive behavior.

Students who meet specific criteria are allowed to participate in monthly and semesterly merit activities. Monthly activities, which are a new addition this year, are done by grade level and are a half-day in length. They may take place at school, like the carnival held last October, or involve a trip to Osborne, Pikes Peak, or other nearby parks. Each semester, a large trip is organized for all grades.

“At the beginning of the year, kids go through each setting for training on expectations in that setting,” explained Stephanie Thomas, middle school guidance counselor. Students are walked through ways to be ready, respectful, responsible, and safe in each of 11 settings including classroom, hallway, office, nurse, field trips, lunch, bullying, and more.

“This is a big thing in the education world,” Thomas told The Press. Clayton Ridge Middle School has been recognized by the Iowa Department of Education on two occasions as a Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports (PBIS) Banner School. The elementary has also been recognized for their efforts to teach expectations and use incentives. 

The ability to qualify for a merit trip, whether monthly or per semester, rests on the shoulders of each individual student. Teachers give ‘referrals,’ which are consequences for late work, tardiness, and arriving unprepared in the classroom. Using a simple two-strike system, students are given referrals to the principal’s office for classroom disruptions and are sent to the office immediately for making verbal or physical threats, using physical aggression or sexually inappropriate language, or for patterns of continued disrespect and disruption.

In order to attend a merit trip for the semester, students must have passing grades. Each student can have no more than two office referrals and four classroom referrals throughout the semester. Students are also required to meet their individual reading goals for both quarters in the semester. 

Monthly merit trips are easier to attain. Students must maintain passing grades, zero office referrals, and no more than two classroom referrals to participate.

This system has been in place since the 2008-09 school year. It replaced a system of demerits; essentially referrals teachers could give in any amount. According to a survey Thomas gave teachers when implementing the current system, classroom management was a significant issue. 

During the first year of the program, total referrals were 1,069. Referrals for late assignments made up 777 of those. Late assignment referrals steadily declined in the years that followed, reaching just 300 in the 2012-13 school year. Total referrals for the same year were 684, a decrease of nearly 40% in the five years since the program’s inception. 

The middle school merit trip to Sundown Mountain for the fall semester has been postponed twice due to weather, but is still on the schedule – showing just how much effort faculty and administration are willing to put into this disciplinary program. “The teachers are excited about less behaviors in the classroom,” Thomas said. “The decrease in behaviors has really improved not only our school climate, but the amount of information we are able to get through in a year.”

The program looks similar at Clayton Ridge Elementary, where students are awarded a monthly incentive for having zero office referrals. Students can also receive tickets for good behavior, showing kindness, or working harder than expected in the classroom. These tickets can be cashed in for an extra recess or used at the school store, which offers pencils, erasers, and a variety of small toys. 

Christine Jasper, elementary guidance counselor, says that about 95% of elementary students qualify for end of the month incentives. “This month, we’re going to be doing a snow activity outside – maybe sledding,” she said. She has noticed office referrals dropping since September, as students become accustomed to the rules. 

Like the academic portion of primary education, the disciplinary program aims to prepare students for life outside of the classroom. Ultimately, says Thomas, the goal is for students to be “productive citizens in the workforce and in the community when they complete their education.”

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