Positive transformation: New program brings change in culture at Carson Middle School

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealStudents walk in the hall between classes at Carson Middle School on Friday.

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealStudents walk in the hall between classes at Carson Middle School on Friday.

Although one of the oldest schools in Carson City, Carson Middle School has seen some of the biggest changes in recent years both inside and out.

A $14 million remodel in 2008 refreshed the exterior, while upgrading the interior and incorporating innovative technology to reduce energy costs.

This year, the students have seen an even greater overhaul, the most noticeable being the school uniform. However, school officials say the standard dress is a small part of the larger plan.

"That's not what this is about," said librarian Ananda Campbell. "It's just the visible part."

Campbell is one of several teachers, administrators, parents and students serving on a committee to implement the Positive Behavior Standards, which she refers to as a "paradigm shift," where staff members look for ways to reward good behavior rather than focusing on punishing poor behavior.

"As teachers, we look at students and if they can't read, we teach them to read. If they can't do math, we teach them do math," she said. "But if they can't behave, punish them. Instead, we need to teach the good behavior."

A small example, she said, is walking between classes. What used to be crowded chaos has transformed into a more orderly commute, with students walking on the right side of the hallway to avoid collisions or confusion.

"We've turned this into a culture of teaching," she said. "It's a real paradigm shift."

"Teachable moments"

When five Carson Middle School girls, and one from Eagle Valley Middle School, were arrested Jan. 5 after the group allegedly participated in a Facebook event called "Attack a Teacher Day," principal Dan Sadler said the school faced it openly.

"It's a learning process for them and everyone involved," he said.

Teachers talked to students about it during advisory periods, he said, where they discussed online activities.

"The Internet can be used as a tool," he said. "It can be beneficial, but it can also be unsafe."

The page came to light after the invitation went out to 79 students, and a parent saw the content.

The six girls arrested allegedly posted threats on the page aimed at specific teachers. The "attack" was never defined and never took place.

Campbell said it was an opportunity to talk about cyber bullying and students' responsibility to not instigate it but also not to pass it along.

"It comes down to a teachable moment," Campbell said. "We are a school, and it's not just academic. We have to teach social behavior."

Sadler said it did not define the school nor the girls involved.

"I certainly think it was an isolated incident," he said. "The reality is we're dealing with very young adults who sometimes make mistakes and need to learn from those mistakes."

How it works

Earlier this school year, the student body was divided into 15 teams, each group made up of students in the same grade, and identified by their own team T-shirts.

Throughout the year, teams with the highest grade-point average, best attendance and lowest rate of disciplinary incidents are rewarded.

So far, Sadler said, the sixth-graders are out-performing the older grades, prompting the upperclassmen to be more motivated to do better.

Students are also rewarded with "C-notes," a recognition for positive behavior that can be redeemed for prizes, like school supplies or bracelets.

Student voices

In addition to the Positive Behavior Standards committee, there is also a board made up of students from all grade levels.

The board takes suggestions from other students and, during its monthly meetings, decides which suggestions to pass on to the larger committee.

"It's their school," Campbell said. "They need to own it."

Some of the recommendations from students that have already been implemented are allowing teams to wear their T-shirts two Fridays a month, along with boxes where students can anonymously recommend their classmates for C-notes and other accolades. There have also been Secret Witness boxes placed around the school where students can anonymously report crimes.

Alexandria Cotsonis, 14, an eighth-grade member of the student board, said the program has improved the school.

"More students want to do good things because they get rewarded," she said. "Whenever I get a C-note, I'm like, yay!"

And as students have learned more about the program, said seventh-grader Victor Guardado, 13, who is also a member of the student board, the more they have accepted the uniforms.

"In the beginning, nobody liked them, but nobody cares anymore," he said. "When you wake up the morning you don't have to decide what to wear, and nobody's going to make fun of you for what you're wearing."

Results

Sadler said he can't really compare this year's disciplinary actions to previous years because the method of collecting them has changed. Every minor infraction is now reported, he said, to implement intervention before punishment is needed.

However, he said, there is a noticeable change.

"There's been a very positive change in the culture," he said. "We can't necessarily show the data, but when you look in the hallways, you can see it."

He expects that will continue to improve over time as students come into the school knowing what to expect, and as the current sixth-graders advance.

Sixth-grader Menen Ashargrie, 11, who serves on the PBS committee, agrees.

"When we first graduated from elementary school, they told us we would have to wear uniforms, so we're used to it," she said. "Our teachers tell us we have to behave and we have to help them even though we're the youngest."

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