ATTLEBORO - When teachers at Brennan Middle School notice students being extra kind or helpful, such as holding a door or picking up trash, they give out coupons that can be traded for rewards.
Rewards range from extra time in gym class, an opportunity to play computer games on a cellphone, wear a hat for a day, or participate in a tug of war against the staff (the students won the first one, by the way).
The most coveted reward so far has been principal for a day. It has a waiting list 30 students long.
Principal Fred Souza said the rewards are part of a new program of discipline instituted at the school three years ago that is being phased in at other Attleboro schools.
Called Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, or PBIS, the program aims to reward good conduct, rather than just waiting to punish misbehavior.
"It's creating a culture where kids and staff are doing the right thing on a daily basis," Souza said.
Assistant Principal Kelly Chouinard said the hope is to get students in the habit of doing good deeds, even when no one is watching.
The rewards, Souza said, also help acknowledge quiet children who might not get the recognition that straight A students enjoy.
To reinforce the message, T-shirts have been made with "#dotherightthing" printed on them and pep rallies have been held.
Extra recognition was also given to the student of the trimester for all four grades at the school.
To create more of a community atmosphere and school spirit, Souza allowed students to paint his office and cluster areas at the school in Attleboro blue and Brennan green.
The reward coupons students are given are printed with a dog's pawprint on them to represent the school mascot, a bulldog.
In addition to the rewards for good conduct, traditional discipline is still used when a student misbehaves. But, the goal is to reduce problems by fostering a positive atmosphere.
The program is a national one adopted in more than 23,000 school systems, including those in Marblehead; San Jose, Calif.; and Fairfield, Ohio.
The organization's website states:
"In the past, schoolwide discipline has focused mainly on reacting to specific student misbehavior by implementing punishment-based strategies including reprimands, loss of privileges, office referrals, suspensions and expulsions.
"Research has shown that the implementation of punishment, especially when it is used inconsistently and in the absence of other positive strategies, is ineffective."
It goes on to state that reinforcing positive behavior works better in the long run.
Assistant Superintendent Laurie Regan said the school department got a five-year grant to implement PBIS and has one year remaining on the grant. Among other things, the money pays for staff training at the University of Connecticut.
Regan said she prefers to refer to PBIS as a framework, rather than a rigid program that comes in a package.
Each school gets to refine its system and adopt it own motto, such as #dotherightthing.
She said it has been gradually phased in at all the schools, and the initial response has been positive.
"As you see with Brennan, it is changing the culture and making students realize it goes beyond school to being a good citizen," she said.