Benefits of the reward system in our schools

There are subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we can reward our children for deeds well done. There’s positive reinforcement: praise, gifts, in some families even money. That’s all well and good (though some might say overindulgent), as Pavlov has proven that the reward system clearly works.

But what about in our schools? Good grades, certainly, connote a job well done. Extra credit, and rewards like pizza parties, school dances or field trips also encourage students to perform well.

Then there’s the gratification of knowing one is doing a good job. Earning a place on a school’s honor roll, for instance, acknowledges a student’s achievement. Gaining entry to the Honor Society, also, indicates an aptitude for scholastics.

Then, for students who excel in other arenas, there’s membership on an athletic team, in an extracurricular activity or in a club.

Like a convivial pat on the back, all of these things help our young people know they’ve done well.

Now, getting back to the honor roll, it’s how our schools laud students and inform the community of those who have earned As or Bs. There are high honor rolls, honor rolls and even merit rolls for which students can strive. 

Now, thanks to the initiative of one student in the North East (Webutuck) Central School District, that district has the Principal’s Honor Roll. The new roll was created by Webutuck High School Principal Jennifer Chason, who welcomes students earning 95 percent or higher each marking period with a private pizza party in her office.

The idea was the brainchild of student Kasey O’Brien, who suggested high-achieving students be recognized for excelling beyond the regular honor roll. It’s meant, she said, to be the equivalent of earning a spot on the dean’s list in college or at a university.

“Getting a 90 percent is not that hard if you really want it,” Kasey said. “I want to encourage other students to push themselves and do better in school, and the high honor roll is not challenging enough for that.”

How impressive is that? For the school to set an academic standard is one thing, but for a student to push the bounds of that standard is quite another. Kasey and her family should be very proud.

And so, too, should other students who succeed in school. It’s important to remember when reading this that success can be, and should be, measured in different ways. Not everyone is a “brain,” nor is everyone a “jock.” There are some who don’t even participate in any scholastic or extracurricular activities. And that’s OK. Let’s encourage our children, no matter their interests, to always work to the best of their abilities. The reward for that, of course, is the knowledge that one tried his or her best.

But, just in case that lesson gets lost on some of our young people, think about having your own reward system. It can be traditional or outside-the-box. The goal here is to recognize effort and to reward excellence — and classical conditioning can help do that. 

Whether that means earning placement on the principal’s honor roll or earning a salary at an after-school job, our children need to be reassured that their best efforts are worthwhile. 

It’s only human nature to want to be praised for a job well done — from our parents, our friends, our schools. Help the process along. Make sure to express appreciation at your children’s accomplishments — even if solely through your words. Chances are they’ll be motivated to move on to better and bigger things.