accentuating the positive

A parent called me last month about the possibility of her son attending JRA. He was being counseled out of his current private school, and she was feeling quite nervous. Her concerns were all legitimate: he’d be devastated to leave his group of friends, and we were SO small compared to where he’d been. And that point system wouldn’t work with him; they’d tried point systems before and he hated them. But she was feeling desperate, so we decided to give it a try and we set up a visit.

Brandon had a great visit. He made an immediate friend, and all the other kids liked him as well. He loved art class and kickball. He didn’t say a word about the point sheet and dutifully carried it from class to class.

Our point sheet is set up in fifteen minute intervals, with points given in three areas: being kind, following directions, and participating in a positive way. There is a space for bonus points, which are given anytime we see someone doing something difficult, being extra kind, or just plain rising above our baseline expectations. If they don’t meet expectations, they get a dot. There is also a space for comments, which we make anytime they get a bonus or a dot.

Any student who gets two or fewer dots by the end of the day gets a twenty minute Harbor Time, in which students can choose from a variety of activities: knitting, art, break dancing, drama, drumming, playground, IPad games, board games, Jenga, or silent reading. Not every option is open every day and they sign up in the morning for the activity they hope to earn. If they don’t make Harbor Time, nothing bad happens, but nothing particularly fun does either. They just hang with Ms Houser or me while the others are participating in an activity.

In Brandon’s previous schools, because of his behavior he was the only one who had a point sheet. It was embarrassing to take it up to the teacher because it so clearly marked him as the problem. At JRA, everyone has a sheet. Two of our kids have never had a single dot and it’s a source of great pride for them. And we tally bonus points at the end of each day and carry them over to the next; when they get ten, they get a coupon that can be turned in for special field trips, extra IPad time, and even to buy back a dot.

The night of Brandon’s successful visit, his mother went up to tuck him in. “Can I start at JRA tomorrow?” he asked. She hadn’t expected THAT. “Why?” she asked. His first reason was that he appreciated not having homework, a sentiment his mother shared. He really liked the kids and kickball and art. “And I like getting a list of all the things I did right at the end of the day,” he continued. His mom was taken aback for a moment. “What list?” she asked him. “The point sheet,” he replied. And sure enough, there on his point sheet was a series of checks, with five bonus points and their explanation: good sportsmanship in kickball, reading the entire silent reading time, bringing a vegetable for lunch, collaboration in science, and taking a placement test in math.

Brandon isn’t used to getting a list of things he has done right because there is so much focus on what he does wrong that the good things get forgotten. One of the things his parents were most worried about turned out to be one of his favorite things.

We were happy to receive his application for 2012-13 year and we look forward to his attendance next year.


  1. Jennie says

    Just at a first glance of this school, it sounds amazing. In 2008, I removed my 10th grade son from public school realizing that every single day I sent him to school all he ever heard were negatives about his behavior, his study habits etc… never in a single day was he ever celebrated for his strengths and accomplishments. He is now attending a college in Sydney, AU where his creativity and strengths are accentuated. So thankful for educators who are seeing the incredible benefits of celebrating and encouraging the “wins”.

  2. Marva says

    It’s the isolation of the behavior point sheet that I find disturbing. Sometimes these kids start out in the negative, because of the pre-classroom transactions that occur in plain class view. Everyone knows Johnny has a problem and that in itself is a self esteem killer. Imagine being told by your boss that you aren’t up to par with the rest of your co-workers and he/she needs you to do something that no one else is doing — something obvious — something that everyone else witnesses.

    I pulled my son out of a school, because his older brother had a very difficult time — some 9 years earlier at the same school. Had the same Kindergarten teacher. And she did the same thing to my youngest son that she did to my oldest. She kept pulling him aside. Making him sit alone. Basically, she made a spectacle out of him. And my youngest is NOTHING like my oldest. Sure they both have some attentional issues and maybe disruptive like many boy kindergarteners, but he was automatically branded because of familial ties. I refuse to watch my youngest suffer through the isolation.

    I moved two hours away. Far enough for my oldest son’s past history not to follow us, and close enough to get to work two days per week. In the new school, his teacher has described him as a visual learner, citing attentional issues too. It’s not perfect, and I still believe my youngest might benefit best from an alternative educational program, but at least he’s not being yanked here and there throughout the day. It’s tough.

  3. Linda says

    Your comments break my heart and remind me why I started this school. I have a child like this too and she hated point sheets in her public school. But we’ve learned they don’t need to be isolating and they can be supporting good behavior. Behavior is communication and poor behavior is communicating that something isn’t working. The re-ed model says that a child is part of an ecological system. When something is off, the first thing most environments expect is for the child to change, when it’s so much easier for the home and school to change first. We have kids who have been kicked out of all kinds of places, but they do well with the structure and positive reinforcement.

  4. pattyayers says

    It seems like a really good system, Linda! And yes, I would love a list of the things I did right each day. Maybe I’ll give myself a point sheet….!

  5. jorivens says

    My 5 year old boys are in Kindergarten. Although they both survived 15 months of neglect they both have their fair share of the alphabet soup going on. One has ADHD, RADs, and a personality disorder not yet named. The other has ADHD, RADs, ODD, and Bipolar. They have been with me since the age of 16 months. They both were on an ISFP until they were 3 years old, mostly for delays and aggression. I tried several times to get them an IEP through the county prior to going to Kindergarten but, failed.

    From August until last week one of them have come home nearly daily, in red or sad face for behavior. It actually took an assistants jaw to be fractured and a call or calls to the Superintendant of the county to finally get my son an IEP. Now that he is in an ECP classroom, he is on a 15 minute sticker system at school and at home. Although it is not the cure all! This little boy is now excited to go to school and come home to show me how many stickers he got during the day!!!!

  6. Linda says

    I think it’s important to remember that our kids don’t want to be bad. They want to succeed and have friends and be happy. They just don’t know how. If we can coach them along and catch them being good, they will know what it is we expect of them and perhaps try to do it again. As you said, it’s not the cure-all, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.

    Good for you for being such a strong advocate for your sons! I hope he continues to be excited about succeeding in school.