By Rhaeza Bruce

Last month the City Year team at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary had the pleasure of staffing the schools first STRIVE Mart--an event with the goal of rewarding and encouraging good behavior in students. The school’s primary expectation of its students is to STRIVE (be Safe Teachable Responsible and Respectful Intelligent Visionary and Excellent) and those students who STRIVE everyday in class, at lunch and recess earn King bucks which can be used at this monthly store to buy toys, trinkets, school supplies and more. It was truly a positive incentive for the students that opened their eyes to the benefits of good behavior.

As staff at STRIVE Mart we were tasked to congratulate students for earning King bucks and help them find a special item to purchase. However it wasn’t as easy it sounds. Students would often wander into the section that required more King bucks than they had earned. It was tough to have to reel them back after their eye had caught something but it was also an opportunity to encourage them to STRIVE a little harder next month to earn those extra King bucks. For the students we knew personally this turned into a goal-setting opportunity. In the moment before the student could get upset they couldn’t buy the higher priced item, we stepped in and gave them a different perspective. This wasn’t the time to get upset but a time to make the right choices and improve in the area of STRIVE that’s challenging so that next time that item could be theirs. It was in these short coaching moments I believe we began to shift our students' thinking of good behavior--that it is not only achievable but its something they want to achieve, that its cool to be STRIVE-ful.

The next morning the entire school was abuzz about the success of STRIVE Mart. The students were showing off their new school supplies and toys to their classmates. The positivity and pride was felt throughout the school. It was obvious the students were beginning to take STRIVE and King bucks more seriously. Of course STRIVE Mart didn’t instantaneously change the students' behavior but it did begin to motivate them to do better. What was learned through this event was that incentives need to be in place to reward good behavior but it's also important to have someone explain what is good behavior, what good behavior looks like to the student personally and how they can get there. That’s were we come in: to build their path and guide them on their path in order to help them reach their behavior goals, and that special toy at STRIVE Mart. Incentive and explanation must go hand in hand so that even after our service they still understand the importance of good behavior.

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