BROOKSVILLE — There are all kinds of things, school-related and not, in the Parrott Middle School store. There is the usual stuff, such as pens, pencils, paper, and there are books, school uniform shirts, computer games, jewelry, even a pair of new sneakers.
The students shop using $1 or $5 "paw bucks,'' school money they earn in any number of ways such as being seen reading a book during lunch or for helping someone.
Teachers also may award bucks during a check of school planners for proper usage. Bus drivers can also award $1 bucks.
Then there are the $5 paw bucks. Students who volunteer to work at the store can earn these each day. The larger reward might be given when a student returns a signed paper. Students who bring in outgrown but gently used school clothes are paid $5 paw bucks for each item.
The purpose of the paw bucks is to encourage good behavior using the PBS or positive behavior support system.
"We have found it decreases office disciplines," said assistant principal Nancy Vasquez. "There's more of a happy culture in the school. Everyone wants to help each other," she said.
There has been an increase of academic achievement and attendance as a result of the initiative, she said, as well as fewer out-of-school suspensions.
There are other outcomes, too. Some of the items, like the shoes and the computer games, are expensive, meaning some delayed gratification.
"This teaches the kids to budget and to work hard. There's even lay-away," Vasquez said.
These outcomes already have earned Parrott the silver award for Positive Behavior Support from the University of South Florida. It's the first school in Hernando County to win the award, Vasquez said. "We're going for gold this year."
The program's rewards go beyond the store. Once a month, there is an ice cream party for students who have received no disciplines for a nine-week period. Ice cream costs 15 paw bucks. Students are allowed to share their bucks with friends.
Those students with clear records for a nine-week period also receive certificates, special letters, PBS T-shirts and coupons for cookies in the cafeteria.
A student who does something extraordinary might have his or her picture posted on the "Leopard Leaders" wall. That student gets paw bucks, a Leopard Leader T-shirt and a purple and gold Leopard Leader bracelet. Vasquez says that about five students have achieved this level.
Leopard Leaders are rewarded for honestly and good citizenship. An example is finding lost lunch money and turning it in to the office. It may be that a student is aware that someone is in possession of an illegal item and reports it to authorities.
"It's part of being responsible, doing the right thing," Vasquez said.
On occasion, a student will report when a friend is in some kind of serious trouble, such as talking about suicide or abuse at home. "They take care of their friends if their friends are in danger, because kids confide in each other," Vasquez said.
At Christmas, there is a special giveaway of donated items through a drawing. This year the school had bicycles, iPods, DVD players, gift cards, a scooter and two Wiis. Students put their names on the paw bucks and put them in boxes for the drawings. The more bucks, the better the chance of winning.
At the end of this year, students who do not get a discipline from Jan. 11 through May 27 are invited to the "No Discipline" reward field day. That is a big incentive because the event includes water slides, hot dogs, popcorn, volleyball, cotton candy, drinks and soccer.
There is a PBS committee made up of 15 teachers, staff members, the school psychologist and the behavior specialist that meets once a month. The group discusses the PBS awards and events and how to show appreciation to teachers for their participation.
Teachers can get bucks, but theirs are called "Booker Bucks," named after the school's principal, Leechele Booker. Teachers can give Booker Bucks to each other for covering a class while the other goes to a parent conference, assisting at an extracurricular event or just helping out where needed.
"They recognize each other," Vasquez said.
There are other advantages for teachers. They sign the paw bucks they distribute. The paw bucks spent by students in a month are collected, and once a month at a faculty meeting, a paw buck is drawn. That teacher receives the floating "spirit stick" and he or she gets to park in the PBS Teacher of the Month parking space. Each month's teacher receives a prize, too.
Teachers wear their PBS T-shirts on Fridays. Students with no disciplines can wear their tees with jeans on Fridays. That's a big incentive. "The goal is," Vasquez said, "they want to be able to wear the jeans on Friday."
The T-shirt is new each year, designed by students. That way a student can earn one a year. Then when they leave the middle school, they can have up to three shirts and, the organizers hope, a good foundation in behavior to succeed in high school.