Dramatic drop in disciplinary referrals, detentions and suspensions prove new merits program at LJMS is a... Systematic Success
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By Kaydon Coburn  May 24, 2013 12:00 am

The newly implemented Merit and Cornerstone Value Programs have been a dramatic success, adding structure to student behavior and discipline at Lawrence Jones Middle School this past school year.

“They all tie together pretty nicely,” second-year LJMS Assistant Principal Scott Johnson said about the dynamic student merit program. “It’s a karma record.”

Student Merits and Cornerstones are an important part of the student citizenship program at LJMS.

“In a middle school with a period schedule, kids have more opportunity to be anonymous with their behavior,” Johnson explained. “They may push the envelope…do all sorts of things just short of getting a referral, do things in every single class, and none of that is really tracked. The purpose of a merit program is to have a low-level discipline tracker, at the same time, tied into the higher discipline issues.”

Johnson has three children in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District. He acquired the system from his previous school in the El Dorado Unified School District in Placerville.

“Dr. Mason (principal) was excited about the idea. It gives them (students, parents, teachers) a sense of their global citizenship. Teachers have been accepting of the program,” he said.

Merit Point System

The Jaguar Merit Program: Students begin each trimester (12 weeks) with 100 merit points. The students must maintain 70 or more merits for each trimester, which determines eligibility in school reward activities, sports eligibility and extra-curricular events such as the end of year trips to Six Flags and Scandia Amusement Parks, Promotion Dance and Ceremony.

Students gain merits based on academic performance, random acts of kindness and demonstrating Cornerstone values. Teachers, instructional assistants, custodians, office personnel and campus supervisors may award merits to students. 

“I feel like there are a lot of kids being recognized in an really objective way,” Johnson said. “It’s about catching kids being good.” 

A Merit Reward Activity each trimester lets eligible students out from class early to enjoy refreshments and celebrate with other students with more than 100 points. Throughout the school year, merit eligible students are entered in drawings for nearly 70 gift cards for retail items as merit rewards. The PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) purchased more than $1,800 in gift cards ranging from $5 to $25 for the academic year.

Students lose merits based on their behavior. Merits are subtracted for class disruptions such as chewing gum, referrals and suspensions. There are various ways students may earn back lost merits (five merits per 30 minutes of extra duty). Merits are earned by signing up for classroom teacher jobs, picking up garbage, library duty and after school campus beautification projects. The merit system is clearly described and outlined in the official student planner, which is distributed to all students and parents at the beginning of the school year.

“I think twice about (bad behavior). It’s (merits) good… fair… if you do something good you get merits. If you do something bad you lose merits,” says seventh-grade student Malek Alkfoof.

The merit point system is all accessed by teachers and organized on a secure, internal computer program Johnson developed with assistance from the district technology department personnel. All behaviors are documented digitally.

“Our (district) superintendent was jokingly calling them Harry Potter Points in the beginning, but now he’s a fan of the program,” Johnson said.

For the first time, and the first week of school, class time was dedicated to focusing on teams learning and examining the life skills of four “Cornerstone Values.”

Cornerstone Values

The Lawrence Jones Middle School Cornerstone Values are “Integrity, Perseverance, Discovery, and Service.”

“It creates a little bit of a family,” says Johnson.

The entire week revolves around teaching the Cornerstone Values with a variety of tasks and activities including worksheets, group posters and skits. 

Cornerstone Values are one component of the merit system and are emphasized by staff throughout the year. Merit points are awarded for acts based on the values. The cornerstone groups will meet periodically throughout the year.

“I like to acknowledge my students with points for helping out other students in class in a spontaneous way,” says Kathy Siple, physical education instructor.

Banners permanently hang above the main entrance, where each cornerstone was purchased and specially made by the ASB (Associated Student Body).

“It’s a time to teach expectations and how to exist at school,” Johnson said. “Being able to put that time up front…those days are valuable… much more valuable than starting math on day one. It’s not just for kids. We all think about the Cornerstone Values.”

Students receive merit and cornerstone recognition patches that are awarded at the  end of each trimester and at the end of the school year.

“Teachers have been gracious in working on making this a part of their classroom management practice,” Johnson said.

Drop in suspensions

Current totals show 85 percent of the 860 students enrolled have 70 or more merits, and 67 students have more than 150 merits. Three percent have no merits at all. Referrals and detentions are down more than a third, and suspension incidents have sharply dropped by 75 percent in some areas.

The new Technology Middle School is planning on implementing the Merit Point System for its inaugural year.

“The kids really get it (merits),” Johnson said. “They’re trained with scores through video games. We don’t have to tell the students their total. Ninety percent walk around with a running total in their head. They know they can’t afford to be chewing gum and lose 10 more (points) and not go to the dance.”

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