Middle school program makes respectful behavior a priority

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – The Eisenhower Middle School started the school year with an R’s and Stars Kick-Off as part of a school-wide effort to promote respectful and responsible behavior. This is the second year of the program which has created a positive school environment that fosters pro-social student behavior, according to a press release from the Freehold Township School District.

At the start of the school day on Sept. 8, pupils could hear “Respect” by Aretha Franklin playing over the speakers as they entered the building. Signs displaying the three “R’s,” Respect, Responsibility and Readiness to Learn, lined the hallways amidst balloons in the school colors of black and gold.

Teachers then provided the first formal lesson on expectations and directions to achieving positive behavior.

“The program provides consistent expectations that are known by all,” Principal Dianne Brethauer said. “It highlights what kids should be doing and shines the light on good behavior.”

According to the press release, pupils are recognized by receiving stars, which are recorded on attendance cards. When a pupils receives five stars, a certificate is sent home to parents by the principal. More than 11,000 stars were given out last school year and the hopes are to increase that number this year.

The R’s and Stars program began at Eisenhower as a result of a state improvement grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the press release, students, parents and teachers responded so well to the program that it has been continued and expanded.

“It is a great program and the kickoff was immediate this year with audio and visual support creating more of an impact,” said Mary Pat Riordan, seventh-grade language arts teacher. “A positive culture and climate is becoming ingrained in the students so they know what to expect and act accordingly.”

Riordan is one of the many teachers who worked on committees with building coordinators to develop lesson plans and sets of specific guidelines.

Greg Durante, building coordinator and school guidance counselor, said plans are developed to address different areas such as behavior in hallways, on the bus and in the lunchroom.

“Needs are assessed to develop the behavioral support topics and lesson plans are then created for teachers to work from,” he said.

Teachers use the plans to remain consistent with the expectations and adapt them as necessary to mesh with the subject matter in each class.

“The program is data driven and we continue to solicit feedback from teachers to see what works best,” Brethauer said.

In order to support and nurture the program, monthly committee meetings are held to evaluate and define concepts. In addition to input from the teachers, a survey of Eisenhower pupils, parents and staff was initially conducted to determine behavioral needs and expectations for the school. Parents have taken an active role in the process by serving on committees and volunteering to tally the stars and help with postcards.

“It offers parents an opportunity to be here to help and remain active in the school,” Brethauer said.

According to the press release, the implementation of the R’s and Stars program has not only created a positive and enthusiastic climate at Eisenhower, it has reduced problem behavior and disciplinary action as well.

In October, the program will be adapted to the elementary school setting at Eisenhower’s neighboring school, Joseph J. Catena. Fifth-grade pupils will begin the program to help create a smoother transition to middle school.

“The program is a bridge to understanding expectations well in advance,” said Neal Dickstein, principal of the Catena School.

Both principals see the benefits of the program and will work to build on its successes, according to the press release.