HOLYROOD — USD 112 teachers and administrators attended the Jostens Renaissance conference in Anaheim, Calif. to inspire students and staff to build a positive school atmosphere, generate school pride and promote education and attendance during their break this summer.
A new program for the district, the Renaissance program has been around for around 20 years, said Rhiannon Becker, asst. principal at Central Plains Middle School - Bushton.
Seven staff members attended the conference, and spent four days learning new strategies. They were Superintendent Steve Woolf, Principal Toby Holmes, Principal Brian Smith, Clay Mettlen, Stephanie Baltazor, Sandy Barton and Becker.
Speakers at the conference were Bill Walton, National Basketball Hall of Fame and NBA player, and LIz Murray, author of "Breaking Night" her memoir about her journey from homelessness to Harvard.
Becker said that sometimes students participating in sports and extracirricular activities receive more attention and this program "puts more recognition on academics."
The program will be implemented this fall in the district. There will be student leaders from each class that will participate in planning and recognition, and the program can be individually designed to fit each school.
The middle school is planning a Hawaiin-themed celebration for those who have perfect attendence the first 50 days of school, Becker said.
Woolf knew of the program, and knew that he wanted to see it implemented in USD 112. "
"I wanted to make sure that we rewarded, recognized, respected, and reinforced academic achievement as much or more as we recognize athletic achievement,." said Woolf. "We understand that we tend to achieve what we reward, recognize, respect, and reinforce.
"In the absence of reward, most people - not all - perform just above punishment level, he said. "Think back to your high school English class.
"You were given a writing assignment. What was your first question of the teacher? I’m going to guess "How long does it have to be?" You didn’t ask that question because you wanted to far exceed the teacher’s expectation. You were trying to avoid the "punishment" of not having it long enough.
"Your next question? "When is it due?" — same reasoning.
"It is amazing to me that coaches can get a kid to run through a brick wall for a sticker on their helmet," said the superintendent. "We want that same type of enthusiasm for academic achievement. In most high schools you can pick out the athletes in your school as they walk down the hallway. They’ve got stuff... letter jackets, shirts, spirit signs on their lockers, signs all over the walls, cheerleaders cheering them on, and we even take our precious academic time to have pep assemblies.
"All of that is great and I don’t want to see any less of that, but I do ask "Can you pick out the students who perform academically in your school the way you can pick out the athletes?"
"If not, we need to do some catching up on the academic side," he said. "For most kids, grade cards are not tremendously motivating and their parents may or may not even look at it. Our JostensRenaissance program is about catching up and hopefully surpassing what we do for athletes by rewarding, recognizing, respecting, and reinforcing academic achievement in a major way."