This is where we are: A primary school in Philadelphia will give its students a crisp $100 bill at graduation if they go the whole year without getting into any physical scuffles.
According to Philly.com, Mitchell Elementary principal Stephanie Andrewlevich has overseen “significant gains” at the school during her tenure, and the cash payout was her brainchild.
“I wanted to challenge them to be what their families see in them, what we know they are,” Andrewlevich said. “They have a choice — to become the violence they see in their day-to-day lives, or to be peaceful models for our school and our community.”
If she cannot find a sponsor who will pony up the money, Andrewlevich will pay the $3,300 out of her own pocket.
The article cites research by Harvard University which “suggests” rewards like cash are “most effective for things that children can control” — things like completing homework and/or reading books.
Harvard Education Innovation Laboratory researcher Brad Allan says he had not previously heard of financial rewards for not fighting, but “endorsed the idea.”
Interestingly, Principal Andrewlevich employs a “collective punishment” aspect to the incentive — if one student screws up, the entire class loses as a result.
Conflict, Andrewlevich told her students, is natural. Anger is OK. But you can handle it without getting physical.
The broader change in thinking seemed secondary, at first; the students were motivated by the money.
“They’d tell each other, ‘Don’t mess up my $100!,’ when there was a problem in the hallway and it seemed like a fight might happen,” the principal said.
But as the weeks went on, the eighth-graders internalized the message. No one has forgotten it, but staff rarely hear the students mention the cash these days.
There are daily reminders: It’s day 50! It’s day 63! There’s a buzz in the building, a movement. Eighth graders conduct peer-mediation sessions with younger students, and the school will soon open its “Peaceful Place,” a room for students to cool down and practice conflict-resolution techniques.
Violence is down, school-wide, but the eighth graders especially have shown remarkable progress. In Andrewlevich’s first year at the school, students ended up at the police station for mediation multiple times, she said. So far this year, only 8 percent of the eighth-graders have been suspended. That’s down from 17 percent at the same point last year and 21 percent in 2016.
Andrewlevich, who was the focus of a Philly.com piece titled “Teaching Hope” two years ago, says some might see her program as bribery.
“I don’t,” she said. “I see it as an investment in our kids.”
Though it’s hard to doubt Andrewlevich’s passion and dedication, early on in their studies and careers teachers are taught to utilize intrinsic motivation as much as possible — that is, how best to tap “an inherent interest in pursing a topic” among their students. Things such as cash payments, on the other hand, are a form of extrinsic motivation, an outside reward for doing something.
What happens when Andrewlevich’s charges move on to high school? The workplace? Without a cash reward will they again resort to violence to “solve” their problems?