A member of Franklin County High School’s cross country team was running at Waid Park last year when she noticed a middle-school runner struggling to finish a nearby cross country meet. The high school sophomore ran alongside her middle-school counterpart, offering encouraging words until the younger runner crossed the finish line.
The FCHS 10th-grader recalled that she didn’t give the gesture a second thought, but that deed earned her what’s called an Eagle Excellence Referral from high school administrators.
The referrals are just one strategy FCHS has used for the past several years to encourage positive academic and behavioral outcomes. Based on the collected data, it seems to be working. For the 2016-17 school, year FCHS reported 2,833 negative disciplinary referrals, compared to 1,938 in 2017-18, according to FCHS Principal Jon Crutchfield.
“For every negative referral we write, we want to write one positive referral,” he said. “That’s about where we are tracking this [school] year.”
When a student receives a positive referral, the student is called to the office for a hand-written form that includes details of the good behavior and a small prize. Rewards can increase each time more positive referrals are given, Crutchfield said.
The school also mails a letter to the student’s parents outlining the behavior and explaining the concept of the program.
“Eagle Excellence is a program here at Franklin County High School that rewards students for positive behavior,” wrote Curtis Bumgardner, FCHS building administrator, in a letter to parents. “I would ask that you commend your child for setting a positive example here at Franklin County High School and encourage your child to continue to strive for Eagle Excellence by being respectful, engaged, achievers and leaders.”
At FCHS, Crutchfield not only regularly walks the halls and talks to students, but he also formed a principal’s advisory committee, choosing several students from each grade to meet with him quarterly. “We’ve called it a ‘committee,’ but I think that’s too formal,” he said.
From those conversations, the campus added outdoor patio furniture so students would have additional places to study and congregate. The school also hosted a movie night on the football field and an open mic night at Whole Bean Coffeehouse in downtown Rocky Mount.
“We really are trying to do different things that reach different groups,” Crutchfield said.
Identifying student leaders, helping them hone their skills and encouraging them to mentor younger students is another initiative on the horizon. Last summer FCHS hosted its first Eagle Excellence Leadership Training event, which included more than three dozen student leaders. Crutchfield envisions more will come in the future.
Similar to referrals for students, FCHS faculty and staff are recognized and rewarded for practicing Eagle Excellence behaviors as well during regular monthly “Staffulty” meetings.
While none of these ideas is original and disciplinary issues will never completely disappear, Eagle Excellence is an important component of the school’s identity, Crutchfield said.
“It’s a part of who we are and it’s a part of our routine,” he said. “A positive culture and climate is the most important thing we can provide. We need to continue with the positive momentum; we need to do more and better.”
Eagle Excellence is modeled after SWAG, a program that began a year earlier at Benjamin Franklin Middle School and the Gereau Center, according to BFMS Campus Principal Bernice Cobbs.
SWAG is an acronym for Safety First, Work Together, Accept Responsibility and Guide Me. The initiative is led by a committee of teachers and staff members who meet monthly, Cobbs said.
Now in its sixth year, SWAG uses an expectations matrix to guide student behaviors throughout the school day. This includes when they arrive at school, and when they are in hallways, restrooms, the cafeteria and classrooms. Examples include respecting others’ space, throwing away trash, moving away from conflict and distractions and attending class daily.
The Guide Me portion of the matrix encourages students to be positive role models, helps enforce safety and offers clear directions and expectations.
Lessons are taught throughout the school year, and SWAG messaging is reinforced daily during morning announcements, Cobbs said. “It is a continuous improvement,” she added. “It’s about consistency and common language.”
Similar to Eagle Excellence Referrals, SWAG Brags were implemented at BFMS as a way to recognize students’ good deeds and positive behaviors. In addition, a nine-week SWAG incentive rewards students with fun activities of their choosing.
SWAG and Eagle Excellence are just two examples of using Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, a nationally recognized, proactive approach to encouraging good behavior through prevention instead of punishment.
In Virginia, PBIS is the behavioral component of the Virginia Department of Education’s Virginia Tiered Systems of Supports, which provides resources, tools and training to educators to promote a positive school culture.
The middle school years often can be difficult for students, Cobbs said. “Our students are at a very critical age where decision-making becomes very important.”
By teaching them about how to conduct themselves in everyday situations, students can be well-prepared for the future. “Our hope is to give our students strategies so that when they are confronted with difficult situations, we can help them to make good decisions,” Cobbs said. “We want them to come away with some tools in their toolbox.”