P.A.W.S.: Money with a Meaning
It’s lunchtime on a Friday afternoon, and students are lining up outside the counselor’s office at Davidson Elementary School in this Inland Empire city 65 miles east of Los Angeles. The students’ excitement is palpable: Davidson’s school store is open for business, and students are ready to spend P.A.W.S. on their weekly shopping trip.
“I’m going to get the lizard!” exclaims one third grader standing in line.
“Okay. Make sure you have 20 P.A.W.S.,” replies school counselor Denise Salcido as she turns to another student in line.
Davidson, located in San Bernardino, California, has devised a way to combat student attendance and behavioral problems by opening a school store. Forget Euros, dollars or pounds, the only currency that’s accepted here are P.A.W.S.—standing for Positive Attitudes With Success and playing off the school’s mascot, a bulldog.
From finger puppets and fish, to bracelets and novelty key chains, a sliding scale operating on a supply-and-demand model determines the going price for the store’s inventory.
“I got a fish! I’m going to name it Nemo,” squeals four-year-old pre-schooler Catalina Navarro when exchanging her 10 P.A.W.S. “I like the toys. I have to be good [to get P.A.W.S.].
San Bernardino’s middle and high schools already had adopted a Positive Behavior Support (PBS) system, but the framework had not been implemented at the elementary level in the district. A group of teachers and school staff, including Salcido who taught for 12 years before becoming a school counselor four years ago, got together to collaborate and brainstorm about how PBS could be applied to Davidson. The idea of a student store emerged on the top of everyone’s lists.
“We just did it because it made sense to us,” said Salcido. “We knew that the students were waiting for a store.”
Students can earn P.A.W.S. for mastering and demonstrating their social skills—things like coming to school on time, finishing homework, and managing bathroom breaks. The store is only open during lunch periods on Fridays, giving students a week to save up. Parents and grandparents agree motivation has played a key factor in the program’s success.
“The children get very excited,” said Frank Navarro, Catalina’s grandfather. “It’s an incentive. Catalina comes home and does her homework. It’s very motivating for her.”
School administrators agree the P.A.W.S. student store is working: attendance is up while behavioral incidents, like referrals and suspensions, have decreased significantly since it opened for business earlier this academic year, says principal Ernestine Hopwood.
“The student store gives our kids a sense of pride, a pat on the back, and something to show their parents that they are following school rules,” said Hopwood. “It has been very effective in reinforcing positive behaviors in the classroom, and on the playground.”
PBS—also known as Positive Behavioral Support or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports—originally emerged in response to aversive consequences with people with developmental disabilities. Instead of punishing students for bad behavior, students are rewarded for good behavior.
“Our staff is delighted that students are able to save P.A.W.S. and spend P.A.W.S., without any additional out of pocket monies,” added Hopwood. “It gives our Spirit Day Friday an additional boost.”
According to research compiled by NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, schools that adopt a systematic approach to managing, monitoring and cultivating positive behaviors often combine it with efforts to implement Response to Intervention (RTI). As a system, educators are able to identify students who are struggling (academic and behavior), diagnose the best course of support (targeted intervention and instruction) and measure their effectiveness with the student.
“In our community, we have very distinct needs—not just academic and financial but emotional and mental,” said Rebecca Harper, president of the San Bernardino Teachers Association. “A lot of times students can exhibit behavior that affects not just their own education but that of other students in the classroom. When counselors step in and work with students in an early age as possible, we can turn the student around so they’re on the right path.”
School stores, an example of school-wide PBS, help to address both sides of the education system—academic and behavior. Many educators and administrators agree that student behavior is one of the greatest challenges facing public school teachers today. Factors such as increased class size, student engagement, challenging home environments, and school culture all have significant impact on overall student behavior.
“Having been a former teacher, I noticed when behavior can impede the learning. When some of those behaviors in the classroom are under control, the learning is much easier to do,” said Salcido. “I saw that student behavior was not allowing them to learn—from whether there’s abuse at home, they’re homeless, they’re into gangs, they’re into drugs, or they’ve lost parents. They’re supposed to come in to learn physics, algebra and geometry. That’s hard. I’m all about human behavior.”
At Davidson, students, school staff and parents say P.A.W.S. don’t just teach lessons about behavior; they’re teaching students about actions and consequences, supply and demand, responsibilities and respect. The experience is also sharpening up math skills for these elementary students.
“On our grand opening day, it pretty much wiped us out,” said Salcido, who used her bargain shopping skills to pinch pennies and stretch the $200 seed money. “When I was hearing feedback from other peers and that teachers are using it for positive and negative consequences, I said, ‘Wow. We have something here.’”
Since receiving a School Improvement Grant (SIG) last year, Davidson has made strides in closing its achievement gaps. By accepting the federal grant—approximately $1.485 million that expires in 2013—Davidson agreed to install a new principal, hire new teachers, extend the school day by 15 extra minutes, and provide more after-school activities. So far, the changes have yielded positive results.
“Davidson Elementary School is starting to make the change for the better because of the SIG,” added Harper. “Being an NEA Priority School is helping them adjust and make the improvements they need.”