Local high school rewards good behavior

By Julie Fann
star staff

Sporting long, wavy hair and dressed in black, soft-spoken Jared Oliver, 15, patiently stood in line at a concession booth designed to reward good behavior that opened for the first time Friday at Hampton High School. Intelligent enough to understand the complex meaning behind authority, Oliver explained how he earned this privilege.
   "I'm here for respecting people; for helpin' people," he said. "I think it's a good thing. I think it'll help people behave better."
   Approximately 15 other students stood in line to spend what Hampton High School's Behavior Management Team calls "dawg dollars" (for the Hampton Bulldogs), small white cards equal to $1 that secretaries, teachers, and coaches give students for academic excellence and/or good behavior that goes beyond what is expected. Students can use "dawg dollars" to buy candy bars, chips, soft drinks, tee-shirts - even small radios with ear phones.
   "I think it's improved our school. The students have seen other kids receiving dog dollars, and they're trying to look at ways of improving theirselves and their school. They're doing a few things extra," said HHS Principal, Danny McClain.
   Businesses such as Coke have donated some of the merchandise sold at the booth, but the project is largely a grant-funded initiative jointly supported by the Carter County School System's special education office and East Tennessee State University.
   McClain and a team of seven teachers and three ETSU staff who are part of the Behavior Support Program meet every two to three weeks to hash out ideas for rewarding positive behavior and to help struggling students. The program mirrors a similar one begun at a West Virginia high school with student population statistics similar to those of HHS.
   "I went to a conference for this in Orlando, and I wanted to focus on catching students doing what they should be doing. A lot of these students coming through here are students who haven't gotten any positive recognition in school before," said Kim Walsh, behavior specialist at HHS.
   While Walsh explained how "dawg dollars" work, one student approached the booth to spend his. Walsh asked him how he won his dollars, and the student looked at Walsh in speechless disbelief. "How did you get your 'dawg dollar', Chris?," Walsh asked.
   "He attended three days successfully of anger management class, and he's been controlling his anger better," Walsh explained. "Aren't you, Chris?" The student nodded his head and slowly grinned before returning to his place in line.
   HHS junior, Gene Sanchez, was less hesitant to make public why he received five "dawg dollars". Like most of the students, Sanchez seemed amazed that he was being rewarded for behavior usually ignored - behavior most consider just a normal part of being a regular kid in a regular high school.
   "We have this student named Fernando. He came from Mexico, and I just showed him around, and I bought him drinks and stuff. I was just being nice to him, and Ms. Bennett gave 'em to me," Sanchez said.
   During the past 4-6 weeks, 165 of Hampton High School's 400 students have received "dawg dollars" either for responsible and cooperative behavior, improved grades, or extraordinary kindness. Patrick Kelly, a teacher at HHS, stood at the booth keeping track of student names and the dollars they received.
   McClain said he hopes to recruit other businesses to join the effort to reward students who excel in a variety of ways. "I'm considering talking to businesses about free oil changes, pizzas, gift certificates to the Mall, McDonald's. We've also considered allowing kids a few minutes of free time or letting them eat lunch outside in nice weather," McClain said.
   Members of the HHS Behavior Management Team, in addition to McClain, are Patrick Kelly, Sharon Thomas, Kim Walsh, John Melendez, Debbie McCormick, Elaine Burleson and Jerry Street.
   The booth was open from 2 to 3 p.m. Friday, and McClain said another one will be held in approximately six weeks.
   Two female students who helped Kelly behind the booth Friday said that, luckily, they also receive "dawg dollars" for volunteering their services.