Richland school's discipline program draws fire from parents

By Sara Schilling, Herald staff writerOctober 6, 2008 

A new discipline program at Chief Joseph Middle School in Richland has irked some parents and they want it replaced.

One mother dislikes it so much that she designed a button featuring a symbol of it next to a picture of Adolph Hitler.

But school leaders and other parents say the Make Your Day program is creating a better learning environment and cutting down on time students spend out of class being disciplined.

The program is new to Chief Joseph this year. It's not in any other Richland schools, but it is used in Kennewick, Pasco and other districts across the state and country.

The five-step program emphasizes students' responsibility for their own behavior. If they disrupt class, they're making a "choice" to move to Step 1 of the program.

That means they sit facing away from the class for a few minutes. If they continue acting out, they go on to Step 2 and stand facing away from the class.

Step 3 means focusing on the school's rule that, "No one has the right to interfere with anyone's learning, safety or well-being."

Steps 4 and 5 involve a parent conference or leaving school for the rest of the day or longer.

Shannon Jones, who organized a parent meeting against the program last week that drew about 50 people, said she worries about the emotional impact of Make Your Day.

It has the potential to humiliate students in front of their classmates, she said. It also lacks accountability for teachers in administering the discipline and takes valuable time away from instruction, she said.

"On the surface it sounds wonderful and positive, but if you look a little deeper and get into the nuts and bolts of the program, you will find that it is anything but positive," Jones wrote in a letter to the school board.

Her daughter, Kay-Cee, 13, an eighth-grader at Chief Joseph, said many students don't like the new program.

But school leaders say it's already making a difference. Expectations for behavior now are clearly laid out and students know they face the same rules and consequences in every class, said Lara Gregorich-Bennett, vice principal.

The program has led to a drop in the time students spend out of class being disciplined, she said.

For example, 11 students have missed class time because of disruptive behavior so far this year, compared with 41 students at this time last year, according to the school.

Seven students have missed class time because of insubordination this year, compared with 17 last year, the data said.

The program doesn't humiliate students, Gregorich-Bennett said. Often when kids go into Step 1 it's so unobtrusive the rest of the class doesn't notice, she said.

She said most students never go beyond the first step. The program also applies to behavior in the hallways and at lunch, and to teachers and other staff at the school.

Ryan Hoff, who teaches history, said he has gained time for instruction through the program because he doesn't have to deal with as many discipline issues. Students stay in the classroom through most of the steps.

"For the first time ever, I'm seeing kids take ownership of their behavior," Hoff said.

School leaders said they spent time researching the program before deciding to implement it, and that included talking to parents.

Jennifer Ellertson, who has two sons at Chief Joseph, said she's seen positive changes because of Make Your Day.

"I started noticing first off that all the hallways were quiet," she said. "It has made a big difference in a lot of areas."

Last week, a handful of students came to school with buttons that featured a picture of a brown crayon, an equal sign and a picture of Adolph Hitler. The crayon was meant to stand for Make Your Day because its founder's last name is Brown.

Some teachers and other students at the school were offended by the buttons, staff said. Gregorich-Bennett said students were not told to remove the buttons, but some teachers talked to students about who Hitler was and why some would be hurt by the picture of the Nazi dictator.

Jones, who designed them, said she didn't mean them to be hurtful but to express that the program dehumanizes students.

Jones and some other parents are circulating a petition that Make Your Day be removed from the school by the end of January and replaced with something else.

"As parents, we don't have different goals than those espoused by the school. Our goals are the same," said Morris Bullock, who has a daughter at Chief Joseph and plans to sign the petition. "But the way they've decided to conduct this program is not the kind of thing we want."

His daughter, Lindsay, 13, an eighth-grader, said some students feel intimidated by the new rules.

School officials said there's always a period of adjustment when a new program or policy is started.

Park Middle School in Kennewick has had Make Your Day for several years, and it's now an important part of the culture, said Principal Kevin Pierce.

It's made the environment at the school more manageable and calmer, he said.

"It's the fact that the program requires staff to constantly express what the expectations are. When kids understand what they need to do and the consequences, 99 percent of (them) are going to follow them," Pierce said.

He encouraged parents with questions to ask about sitting in on a class to see the program firsthand. Chief Joseph welcomes parents who want to do that, Gregorich-Bennett said.

She said the school has heard from parents and students who like Make Your Day, and also is taking the concerns seriously.

Jones said her next parent meeting is 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at 1422 Jadwin Ave., Richland. The group also plans to talk to the school board.

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