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Surrounded by balloons and guitars on the cafeteria stage, with posters of Hanna Montana and the Jonas Brothers, a giant inflatable jukebox, and records hanging from the ceiling, Bronson Elementary students are eating, dancing, giggling, and blowing lots of bubbles.
"Can I freshen up your drink, miss?" teacher Mark Roberts asks a first grade student. With her approval, he proceeds to top off her fruit punch and add fresh ice. Roberts is spending Friday moonlighting as maitre'd for BES's Hard Work Cafe.
A loose interpretation of the Hard Rock Cafe, the BES cafe is part of the Positive Behavioral Support System, a program partially funded through a grant from Florida Department of Education, Exceptional Student Education, and University of South Florida. Other costs are offset through fundraisers and donations from the public. Bronson Elementary is part of several schools in Levy County participating in PBS.
The program is intended to coach students toward good behavior in a positive way without singling them out, according to BES Principal Cheryl Beauchamp. "The underlying principle in PBS is to teach replacement behaviors," she said.
Teachers are busily "catching" students behaving properly, staying on task, and being good, and then students are rewarded with special eagle dollars assigned an economic value.
What can eagle dollars buy at Bronson Elementary? Pencils, notebooks, posters, stuffed animals, BES t-shirts, and the mother load: a special lunchtime at the Hard Work Cafe, where teachers wait on you with unlimited soft-drinks and juice, music pumps from the jukebox and you are free to get up and dance at any time.
"They have the choice to purchase an all access pass to the Hard Work Cafe," said Caryl Carlisle, BES Reading Coach who serves on the eight-member PBS team at the elementary school. "Any child can go if they choose to spend their money on that opportunity, it's not teacher selected."
Carlisle is happy with the success she has seen. "One of the students said this is the best year ever at Bronson Elementary - and he's one of them that we're trying to target."
In addition to the eagle dollar economic system, there are other student rewards at BES that are teacher selected.
On early release days this school year two students from each class, chosen by their teachers for excellent behavior and citizenship, have the opportunity to visit VIP Wednesday. Students are served popcorn and soda, work on crafts like beaded necklaces, and enter special drawings for prizes.
"We have another best day ever!" Music teacher Sue Wilson exclaimed to cheers and laughter last Wednesday, when another student had excitedly told her that he'd never had so much fun in school. "Let's hear it for VIP!" Wilson shouted, followed by more cheers and hollers.
BES has also created the Golden Eagle Egg as an award for students who have been observed doing something extraordinarily above and beyond. Three have received the distinction so far this year: one student found a ten dollar bill outside and turned it in to his teacher; one student stopped to help another pick up a dropped lunch tray, encouraging the other student to stay and clean up instead of leaving it for the janitor; and another student was awarded for his service in escorting a young girl with disabilities from the bus to her class, to lunch, and back to the bus - something he initiated himself because he wanted to help.
The Golden Eagle Egg recipients will be specially honored at the nine-week recognition ceremony for all outstanding students who have participated in the various PBS programs, as well as those making honor roll.
"There have been more benefits than we ever anticipated," Beauchamp said regarding the incentives, especially the Hard Work Cafe where students learn social cues and expectations. "It gives them a little experience for when they're out in the real world, so they'll know how to be."
District administration is also seeing positive results in the schools participating in PBS.
"We've got more kids in the classroom doing what they're supposed to be doing because they're learning appropriate replacement behaviors," said Jeff Davis, Levy County Assistant Superintendent.
"The purpose of positive behavior support is not to change discipline or consequences," Davis said. "Just as we have kids who come to us not knowing how to read and write, we have kids who don't know how to behave."