Veteran students Alicia Bayless and Natalie Black, along with teachers and administration staff greet the newly arriving freshmen in the old gym at Payson High School at the start of freshmen orientation.
Photo by Andy Towle.
The games freshman played in small group circles at Payson High School one recent afternoon during the waning days of summer vacation seemed, on the face, like simple fun.
In one community building exercise meant for learning each other’s names, a student standing in the center of a circle picked a person, and said his name while trying to slap his hand. If the slappee flinched, he took the circle’s center, crowned the new slapper.
Beneath frivolity lay an attempt by several teachers and staff at the high school to increase morale in a year more likely to fray the spirit. Budget cuts have expanded teacher responsibility and reduced the options for keeping classroom decorum.
Namely, this year teachers have lost the option of sending a disruptive child out of the classroom, said PHS Kari McCleskey, who also helps with Link Crew.
“I don’t want to bang the school at all,” said McCleskey.
“We all know about the stuff that’s happened.” Layoffs have reduced the number of staff, and even the new Principal Kathe Ketchem must run another school, the alternative Payson Center for Success.
Still, teachers previously had out-of-classroom discipline programs available where they could send disruptive students.
And so this year, McCleskey, along with Jeri Johnson in the bookstore and student government organizer Shelly Camp, have reinvigorated the so-called Renaissance Program. Run through Jostens, the purveyor of yearbooks and class rings, the Renaissance Program helps schools organize custom programs that focus on certain academic goals like improving graduation rates or reducing discipline problems.
McCleskey hopes that by building morale — which she said has tanked — the high school can reduce the number of behavior problems and also increase the graduation rate.
“My goal is to have 100 percent graduation,” McCleskey said about her ultimate hope.
Through the program, teachers at school will recognize birthdays and celebrate accomplishments like earning good grades. They’ll send kids to the principal’s office so Ketchem can bestow congratulations.
The program has existed, although dormant, at PHS for roughly the past decade.
“The kids who are in the school now have no clue what Renaissance means,” said McCleskey.
And besides raising student morale, leaders will also focus on teacher and staff morale. “It’s not just staff and faculty, but stafulty,” said McCleskey. Everybody receives T-shirts that read “stafulty” on the back instead of, for instance, the word “security,” like a security officer might wear.
At last Tuesday’s orientation, older students led their younger charges through the rigors of learning everybody’s names. Both student council and Link Crew members will help with the Renaissance program throughout the year.
McCleskey said the school will start a Renaissance Club which students can enter only if they earn at least a 2.5 grade point average. Students will receive metallic cards that bestow benefits around town.
For instance, students who have a 4.0 grade point average can get a gold card, from 3.5 to 3.9 grade point average confers a silver card, and above 2.9 GPA awards you a bronze card. McCleskey hopes to convince local businesses like fast food restaurants to discount purchases for cardholders.
She also hopes that competition inspires good behavior.
“You give a kid something and the kid next to him is going to say, ‘What? How did you get that?’”
And by working together, organizers hope the program succeeds, and with it, the students at PHS.