STAR Educational Center students have been working since January to earn positive behavior points so they could go on the school trip to Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee.
Last week, every student who was in school that day was eligible to go.
"A lot of them have turned around their behavior to earn this," said guidance counselor Vicki Hughes, who organized the outing.
This is "the first time in the history of the school that we're doing this," Hughes said. "This is a day the park is normally closed, but they're opening it for us."
Many of the students who attend STAR are young people who struggled with behavior in their home schools. "The kids who come here made bad choices," Hughes explained, but at STAR they "get to start over. A lot of kids have turned around by coming to our school."
Some of the students are at STAR for TOPP (Technology Oriented Performance Program), which provides an opportunity for students who lack credits, for any number of reasons, to participate in individually paced computer coursework to earn high school diplomas. They, too, were headed to the water park on Thursday.
Bryana Francolino, 16, is a junior at STAR for TOPP and agreed with Hughes' assessment of the school's population. "A lot of kids aren't bad kids," she said. "They just need someone to talk to."
Control in students' hands
Some of the students were giddy with anticipation in the days leading to the trip saying they had the stuff they were going to take laid out for days. "I can't wait to go and eat the food," Bryana said the day before the excursion.
She was referring to the free food, compliments of Winn-Dixie, that was provided for them, including subs, fried chicken, soda and trimmings. The school wanted to be certain all the students' needs were addressed. "We even bought sunscreen for the kids," Hughes said. A Hernando County Education Foundation mini-grant helped fund the event.
The positive behavior system that the school used was borrowed from Citrus County's comparable school, the Renaissance Center, and tweaked to fit STAR.
"It puts students in more control of their behaviors and responsible for the outcomes," said reading/vocational graphic arts teacher Genele Firlik.
Points for a job well done
Throughout each day's seven periods, students can earn points, advancing through levels to earn gifts as well as the trip. Students can lose points for tardiness, the use of inappropriate language and other infractions. They can amass five per class for
One point can be gained each class for following school and district policies. A second point is available to those who participate in class, do their work and remain positive. A third point is awarded for attendance, being on time and in an assigned seat, prepared. The fourth possible point is for completing work and the fifth is left to the teacher.
"We call it teacher's discretion," Firlik said.
The day after the water park several students shared highlights.
"My favorite part of Buc Bay was probably going down the tube slides having fun with my friends," said junior James "Meatball" DeVito, 17. James said that the workers at Weeki Wachee called him "the greatest heavy-set kid to hit the scene." He did admit enjoying the free pizza. "Pizza is my favorite food. They had it, so I chowed down on that," he said.
Sophomore Gabe "Big Gabe" Guerrios, 16, said, "What I enjoyed was jumping down the slides and stuff." He also said it was not that difficult to earn the points necessary for such a reward. "It's easy over here. Just sit down and do your work. Not fool around," he said.
James said it has been easier for him to behave appropriately since he started attending the alternative school. "I'm always good," he said. "When I'm at STAR, I don't have to be class clown anymore." He said the classes weren't big enough to bother trying to entertain.
Brandy Viereck, 14, was one of the younger students on the field trip. A seventh-grader, Brandy said she enjoyed swimming and hanging out with her friends. She had gotten a new bathing suit for the occasion.
The students seemed to really appreciate the day. "I would like to thank them very, very much for taking us out to Weeki Wachee," Brandy said.
Gabe's sentiments were similar. "I thought it was very nice of the school taking me there and it was very fun," he said.