New ideas, change all part of growing pains

April 23, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

CALIPATRIA — Pristine and gleaming in the afternoon sun, the new buildings are a stark contrast to the worn-down houses across the street.

Newly planted flowers climb the perimeter fence, which looks freshly painted.

The new school in this one-stop town is Bill Young Jr. Middle School.

Students here don't just have a new school name and new buildings; it's a brand new school of thought.

In their first year at the new facility, with a new school name, the students and faculty of Bill Young Middle are experiencing a difference in more than location, with a new principal and plenty of new programs. It's been a year of adjustment and change.

It starts in the morning with first-year Principal Joe Derma greeting students and parents as they walk through the gates onto the campus.


Teachers also are a visible presence. No longer in their rooms between passing periods, they stand in the halls in front of their classes monitoring and greeting their next period's students.

A part of his morning routine, Derma frequently stops parents and asks them the school's word of the month.

If the parent knows the word of the month, Derma has a prize, a school shirt or hat, ready to present.

"It's part of our character education program," Derma explained.

Character education is just one policy new at Bill Young Middle.

"It has helped the overall atmosphere of the school like you would not believe," Derma enthused.

Teachers must spend one hour per month in their homeroom teaching a "character" trait to students, defining the word, and helping the students think of examples of when it might be used.

Character words change monthly; this month's word is "honesty."

"It's reinforced by catching them (students) doing something good," Derma said.

Students are entered into a drawing if they are "caught" living out the word of the month, and names are picked monthly to win prizes such as scooters, bikes and Game Boys.

One big prize is given out, with eight other students winning a $5 gift certificate to a local store.

"We have many donors," Derma said of the prizes' origins.

Derma said character education has contributed to 85 percent fewer referrals this year.

Also contributing to the declining discipline problems is the new schoolwide discipline policy.

"It is all procedures. We don't have rules, it's procedures," Derma said, adding it is a progressive procedure discipline policy with instant consequences.

"Each teacher has the same plan and the same consequences," Derma said. "We are one of the few schools that has the same discipline plan on the school site."

He added the new discipline policy has cut fights at school and dress code violations

"Teachers aren't the only ones responsible for enforcing discipline now," he said, adding everyone including office staff is responsible for making sure procedures are followed.

Each teacher has a discipline log in his or her classroom, in which teachers record any offense of procedure, including "misdemeanors" such as having gum or not being prepared for class; a log also is kept in the office.

Students are first sent to a "Buddy Room" for misbehaving in class.

Students stay in the Buddy Room for 20 minutes and must complete a work packet in that time.

They are then sent back to their classroom.

If the misbehavior continues and a referral is issued, the students are sent to "in-house detention" for an hour, during which they have another work packet to complete.

"The responsibility always comes back on the kids," said Derma.

He added, "a referral means something to the kids now. Every referral comes with a consequence."

Students also are rewarded for good behavior.

Derma has started implementing a "positive home visit" award every two weeks.

He selects a student who he thinks has earned the positive home visit by demonstrating the word of the month or who is really making an effort in classes.

Derma creates a certificate and takes it to that student's home or their parent's place of work.

"It's a surprise," he said. "The students don't know about it. I just show up."

"There is a positive atmosphere now," Derma said.

Derma also rewards students for succeeding in the classroom.

Students who earned a 3.5 grade-point average for the third quarter won a day field trip to Wiest Lake. The second quarter prize was a carne asada cookout.

The school has implemented a new reading program, receiving local and state recognition.

The Corrective Reading program is schoolwide and occupies the entire third period.

Students are tested at the beginning of the year at their reading level and spend all of third period working to improve their reading levels.

The program has been a "tremendous success," according to Thela Sullivan, an English teacher at Bill Young.

"I've seen a huge success in the oral reading of these kids," she said. "Their fluency and literacy is so high now and their reading is influencing their writing."

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