School club shows teens the right way to behave

Anne Arundel pupils improve with support

April 23, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Membership in the Right Way club at Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School isn't open to all pupils. It must be earned.

But good grades or athletic achievements won't open the door. Skipping school, yelling at the teacher and getting poor grades might do the trick.

Created by Donald Lilley, an assistant principal at Lindale-Brooklyn Park, the Right Way is a 2-year-old initiative to reach some of the school's most disruptive eighth-graders. Pupils see it as a social club, one where bad behavior gets you in and good behavior lets you stay.

Pupils are required to speak daily with Right Way coordinators, who keep close tabs on their conduct and grades. The club meets weekly to discuss progress and problems. Members who fail to abide by the rules enjoy none of the perks -- roller-skating field trips, visits to the Naval Academy, club T-shirts and pizza parties.

The program's mix of rewards, structure and attention seems to be working. Among Right Way members, school officials say, behavior problems are down and academic achievement is up. Pupils say the club gives them a reason to go to school.

"They just want somebody to listen to them; they're dying for attention," said science teacher Jolyn Newhard, a Right Way coordinator.

The centerpiece of the program is the involvement of two seventh-grade teachers who serve as club coordinators. Science teacher Newhard works with the girls, and the boys report to Scott Edwards, a social studies teacher.

Each day before school, Right Way members must check in with their coordinator. The teachers ask the pupils about their attitude for the day, make sure they're dressed appropriately and have the proper school supplies.

Newhard said she tries to help her pupils understand that teachers are in charge -- a concept that many had never grasped.

"They don't have general school social skills," she said. "They don't understand the idea of the teacher being an authority figure."

Right Way members say they look forward to their discussions with the coordinators. They say the talks help them deal with their anger about school.

"I'm a lot happier now," said LaToya Harris, 14, who said she spent a lot of time in seventh grade "disrespecting" teachers by walking out of the classroom. "Miss Newhard, she's the kind of person you can talk to. She shows us there are ways we can talk our problems out."

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