Education feature: Good grades come with rewards

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

In local schools, it’s raining candy, stickers, popcorn, bicycles and lower insurance rates.

These are just a few rewards students are being given these days for excelling in the classroom.

Students 25 years or younger who maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher are eligible to receive lower car insurance premiums through most insurance agencies, which can drop costs by 20 percent, according to Clovis Allstate Insurance Agent Linda Casaus.

“It gives older students the incentive to do well, and at the same time, they can save a lot of money,” Casaus said.

The Clovis Masonic Lodge recently gave 13 students bicycles for reading books, and they will do so again in May, according to a spokesperson.

The Bank of Clovis has long honored good grades with an annual banquet for elite students.

Incentives for good performance have become a way of life for all of the schools in the district, according to school officials.

In a first-grade classroom at Highland Elementary, teacher Elizabeth Tanner stashes a colorful collection of stickers. When students do their homework or behave exceptionally well, Tanner said she allows them to choose a sticker, which she purchases herself.

“It works,” she said. “It gives instant feedback.”

There are some drawbacks, though, she said.

“Unfortunately, I think there are some children that expect rewards instead of that internal satisfaction,” Tanner said.

It is intrinsic motivation that incentive programs are designed to build, said Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

“It is sound psychological thinking… By giving out things like candy and stickers you are trying to build intrinsic motivation. It is not just about the candy but that the student has accomplished something,” Seidenwurm said.

The superintendent said the principle is used frequently when introducing new behaviors to children, or “anybody.” In order for it to be effective, she said rewards must be given frequently during the first stages of learning, and then must become less frequent as the desired behavior is learned. Eventually, rewards should become periodic.

And of course, rewards must be age appropriate, she said.

For James Bickley Elementary Principal Steve Baldock, concrete incentives also work. He turned an age-old discipline notion topsy-turvy, making visits to his office mandatory for bad and good behavior. He said the new system has yielded promising results. The school also rewards students with “Bobcat Bucks,” which can be traded in for candy, food, or school supplies.

“I believe that students should be paid for their work just like adults are,” Baldock said.