Teachers pull out all stops to motivate students

6/30/2013 11:30 AM
By Associated Press

BRIDGETON, N.J. (AP) — Kiss a pig. Sleep on the roof. Get duct-taped to the wall. Take a pie to the face. Shave your head.

For years, teachers have been challenging their students to reach their goals but, more often than not, these challenges have been met with bizarre rewards.

Years ago, a principal at Quarter Mile Lane School in Bridgeton ate three live goldfish to aid the students achievements in the "Read Across America," program. Also in Cumberland County, the Downe Township Elementary school principal and superintendent went "camping" on the school's stage to support the kids during their "Camp Read-a-Book," program. The camping also included a "crawling creatures pie" with chocolate-covered crickets and ants.

At Lake Tract Elementary School in Deptford, the principal and a physical education teacher kissed piglets, in honor of the students' achievements in a school fundraiser for juvenile diabetes. A principal in Williamstown, as part of a campaign for Alex's Lemonade Stand, was duct taped to a wall outside his cafeteria after students bought a strip of tape for $1 each.

In the dead of winter, three teachers at Bunker Hill Middle School in Washington Township spent the night on the roof, after the students exceeded their fundraising goal for Toys for Tots. This was the same school where one of the teachers braided his long hair into cornrows, dressed up like a woman and danced to an Aerosmith song.

Speaking of changing appearances in the name of fundraising, a physics teacher from Clearview Regional High School shaved his beard in the school hallway, after milestone fundraising for a student who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in the prior year.

These events, although eye-catching, raise questions about the effectiveness of the acts.

"I would definitely do it. During my student teaching (at Clearview Middle School) we had all the teachers get dressed up for the Hunger Games. It was to try and get kids excited about the Hunger Games books and a way to have the teachers be involved as well," said Larae D'Angelo, 23, a recent college graduate and education major. "It was fun. Teachers will do all they can to make their students engaged and excited" she told the South Jersey Times (http://bit.ly/17w7TAk).

As engaging and exciting as these events may be, the question is still being raised, as to if children are really learning anything from pies in the face, or pig kissing. According to Steve Baker, associate director of public relations at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), yes, students are learning.

"We applaud our members who use creative techniques to help our students learn. Our members are going above and beyond to try and engage these students who, for example, might not have picked up a book before this contest," said Baker.

It really shows the kind of commitment we see, year in and year out.

According to NJEA, students can use these bizarre incentives to achieve personal goals. They might not have even read a book before the contest, but the reward is so exciting, that students will now think about reading beyond this contest, Baker suggested.

Dr. Jason Vivadelli, principal at Evergreen Elementary School in Woodbury, believes that the events set the instructional vision for the school.

"Anytime I can find a way to blend the two by making learning fun, everyone benefits. It's my job to set a positive climate and tone for everyone," Vivadelli said.

Recently, Vivadelli had challenged his students to read 50 books. He said that not a day went by that a student didn't update him on their progress.

"Students knew our entire staff cared deeply about reading, so they responded by reading significantly more than they have in the past. Our emphasis on reading and willingness to be laughed at a little, both explicitly and implicitly communicated how much we care about each one of them. When students know they are cared for and loved, they are more willing to put in the hard work and go the extra mile to meet your expectations," said Vivadelli.

Michael Yaple, public affairs officer for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said kissing a pig or sleeping on the roof in winter isn't in a teacher's job description.

"But it really shows the kind of commitment we see, year in and year out, in public schools throughout New Jersey," said Yaple.

The odd rewards have sparked something in South Jersey that seems to be spreading like wildfire. The "crazy ideas," as Vivadelli puts it, seem to help motivate students to excel. He hopes that in the future, their school can gain more involvement and let everyone in on the fun.

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Information from: South Jersey Times (Woodbury, N.J.), http://nj.com/southjerseytimes


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