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Positive reinforcement

At Oak Grove Middle School, good grades and behavior get students the privilege to be outdoors during lunch time.

Published September 19, 2006

CLEARWATER - Under the shade of live oaks, Arbnor Shala sits on a bench sipping bottled water and eating spicy Cheetos with his friends.

While other students crowd into the cafeteria, Arbnor, 12, will run and play football outside.

For Arbnor and other students who demonstrate positive behavior at Oak Grove Middle School, outside lunch privileges are only part of the reward for being a good student.

Good grades, helping teach other students concepts or not talking out of turn are all ways that, if noticed, a student can earn a gold card as part of the Positive Behavior Support Project.

"All my friends are out here, so I changed my attitude," Arbnor said. "So I could come out here and play with them."

And turning things around, he said, was necessary because in middle school, it's more difficult to play catch-up if you miss a day.

The Positive Behavior Support Project is part of a statewide behavior-monitoring program involving 17 schools around Florida and the Department of Child and Family Studies at the University of South Florida.

At Oak Grove, students on the honor roll or principal's list get special laminated cards that grant outdoor eating privileges every day for the grading period.

Other students are rewarded with gold cards for good behavior. The cards have a list of positive acts, including being respectful, responsible or honest. The traits are circled, and the student's name and the teacher who recognized the good behavior are written on the back of the card.

The school is in the fourth year of the Positive Behavior Support Project, and USF behavior specialist LaSonya Moore said the program is working. For example, she said, referrals at Oak Grove dropped from 160 in August 2003 to 67 in August 2005. (There were 97 referrals this August.)

New students learn about the program, and other students take initiative to curb negative behavior, Moore said.

"They are policing each other," she said.

Guidance counselor Sarah Loesch collects gold cards from students during lunch and makes sure that no one who hasn't earned the privilege tries to sneak outside for lunch.

"It's really good because there are some kids who don't perform without rewards," Loesch said. "It really does get kids working in class."

Some middle-schoolers like to work hard and play hard. In addition to playing football, students can play basketball, jump rope or just hang out and unwind.

Sixth-grader Jamiek Reynolds, 11, likes being rewarded for his good grades and behavior. He gets to relax.

"When you do work all the time, you just want to take a break," he said, sipping strawberry-flavored water and crunching Cheetos with friends on a bench in the shade.

But the pass is not permanent.

"If you don't do good, he will take it away, just like that," Jamiek said, snapping his fingers.

With the heat radiating off the blacktop in the bus circle, four girls jump rope. Although it is hot and humid, the chance to play in the open air is too much to resist for Cassidy Solito, 12, a seventh-grader.

"It's kind of like recess," Cassidy said. "You can come out from being inside all day."

[Last modified September 19, 2006, 07:53:03]

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