The Hardware City has a new superhero in town. He has a red cape, a boxy stature, and carries a plentiful supply of soap.
The superhero is part of the school system’s new campaign aimed at stamping out misbehavior through the slogan “talk smart, not smack.” Officials want to remind students and parents about the importance of how they talk, dress, and proper attendance and are hoping a little competition will get the word out.
School officials are trying to crack down on a small sector of the city’s students who use profanity and are disrespectful to others. Leaders are trying to spread their message to parents and students through music videos, songs, and other initiatives. One kindergarten class at Lincoln Elementary School recently penned a song about the importance of being in the classroom, for example.
This fall, the city’s middle school students will have an opportunity to show their hands at designing a comic strip through a competition that incorporates the new mascot. Superintendent Kelt L. Cooper is proposing that students work with their art, history, and language art teachers to develop the pieces.
The winner will likely receive a $50 gift certificate to a book store, while the finalists will have their comic strip bound with the work of other students as a keepsake.
At the beginning of this school year, Cooper presented teachers with a symbolic bar of soap to help stamp out the issue and focus on student achievement. Although the campaign may seem “whimsical at times,” Board of Education President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra said the “underlying message is very serious.”
She said in a recent letter to the community, “Education is the great equalizer and we must ensure that our students are given every opportunity to learn in a safe and orderly environment with all stakeholders, students, families and faculty demonstrating respect for one another.”
Beloin-Saavedra shared with the board a recent television program about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “Advancing the Dream.” One of the people interviewed in the documentary was the New Orleans-born actor Tyler Perry. The school system is working to pull his segment from the documentary and post it on the district’s website.
“He had some really profound words about growing up in New Orleans and being dirt poor and his work ethic and what he did to get to where he is today,” Beloin-Saavedra said. “Part of his message was about all the chains around your neck and pants around your ankles is not going to get you a job. He talked about self respect and respecting all the people that came before him that allowed him to get to where he was.”
Cooper said that “largely our students do behave well” and that most students are “just as sweet, and kind and smart as any other kids in any other community.”
During the Board of Education’s Sept. 9 meeting, New Britain High School student Hawley Brown spoke about Cooper’s initiative, saying it should be revised to include community service as a form of punishment. She said she applauded Cooper’s work to tackle the issue, but said suspension for five to 10 days for swearing or other related offense is not the right form of punishment.
“Studies have shown that suspension does not reduce the further infractions of students,” Brown said. “A Duke University study found that students viewed suspension not as a punishment but as an official, school-sanctioned holiday.”
School she said, provides students with a safe and productive environment. Without it, students are more likely to cause trouble and will find themselves fighting and using drugs.
“Additionally, suspensions makes students three times more likely to drop out of school,” Brown said. “Suspension is counterproductive to one of the mission’s of the Board of Education: to increase high school graduation.”
Brown referred to a study that found that students who performed 25 hours of community service resulted in a decrease in their discipline referrals and the number of absences. It also increased their grade point averages.
Students could aid janitors and other staff members in need of extra assistance.
“Your initiatives to improve the New Britain School system have had a tremendous effect and the dedication you exhibit will effectually further positive changes,” Brown said. “Your initiative to clean up the schools is admirable, however, it can be improved by replacing the punishment of suspension with community service.
“You have taken the first step of ridding the school system of smack and crack. Will you improve it even further?” Brown questioned.