By Asumi Ohgushi, Corps Member, Disney Team at Normandie Ave. Elementary School

In front of an audience of over one thousand elementary school students, two lines of corps members walked across the stage. The group given the role of “Good Kids” walked quietly across the stage with our hands behind our backs. The other half of my team, the “Bad Kids,” threw trash, talked, and pushed one another.

“Thanks so much for walking quietly, you guys. Here is some Cougar Cash!”
Ms. Taylor, our fearless Team Leader, handed us the bright orange slips of paper, which we excitedly received.

“Awww, no fair! Why don’t we get Cougar Cash?” the Bad Kids complained.

We followed this dramatic masterpiece with two more scenes of Good/Bad behavior, in which good behavior was generously rewarded. Instead of punishing the Bad Kids, however, Ms. Taylor told them kindly that next time, if they behaved better, they, too could get Cougar Cash. At the end, the Bad Kids figured it out, and willingly chose to improve their behavior.

As silly as this morning assembly might have been, Normandie Ave. Elementary’s new behavior management system is anything but. Cougar Rewards (named after the school’s mascot) is a program by which the Disney Team and other adult non-teachers can give Cougar Cash to students with good behavior. Once a month, the Cougar Cash Store opens, and the students are able to use their hard-earned dollars on school supplies and other small knick-knacks, while also earning points for their class. The classroom within each grade with the greatest number of Cougar Cash points gets to have a giant Normandie Cougar trophy in their classroom for the month.

Although Cougar Rewards has been used in the past, this year the administrators asked the Disney Team at Normandie Ave. Elementary School to revamp it and take on its implementation.

In running this program, we are beginning to infuse it with pieces of City Year culture, and interact more with students we don’t directly serve. We will be announcing the monthly winners over the loudspeakers, and our two Cougar Cash point people will be opening the store each month.

The Disney Team strives to be a positive force at the school. We’re not just disciplinarians; we try to show students that their actions have a ripple effect. Kids are able to earn credit not only in a tangible, personal way, but also in a collective sense, doubly incentivizing good behavior.

Focusing on positive reinforcement is a tactic mirrored in our after school program. Our behavior management is tied both to the positive– a sticker chart that leads to group rewards like pizza parties — and the negative, in the form of warnings and strikes. Part of the way we tweaked the Cougar Cash system was to integrate it into our pre-existing program. Students who earn stickers and marbles for their team but whose teams aren’t able to win the pizza party can trade in their marbles for Cougar Cash, and thereby still get some reward — even if the rest of their team isn’t on point.

Ultimately, our role with Cougar Cash demonstrates the level of trust the school has placed in us. Our principal, Dr. Ortiz, never hesitates to include us in a meeting, assembly, or special event if he thinks it could benefit us or the school. Just as we occupy a special place in the classroom, targeting the students who might otherwise slip through the cracks, we also have a unique role in the school at large. Whatever needs to get done, we are ready to do it, cheerful, organized, and in uniform.

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