Learning Lessons: Carrying the TORCH

Voice: May 2015 

This story is part of a regular series, "Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools,'' that features educators who individually or collectively are doing great things or conducting great programs in Pennsylvania's public schools.

"You know we're all about that TORCH, 'bout that TORCH, no trouble," sang eighth-grader Tatiana Golovca to the tune of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass."

For students at Jim Thorpe Area School District's Penn-Kidder Campus, TORCH means "Teamwork, Organization, Respect, Choices, and Honor,'' principles that teachers and staff there have made part of an award-winning program that the kids love.

The TORCH program, otherwise known as the Schoolwide Positive Behavior Intervention System, is intended to promote a positive learning environment. It sets expectations for student behavior, recognizes students' good conduct, and rewards them for it.

During a recent TORCH rally, the energy in the room was palpable. And all the excitement carried a message - doing what you're supposed to is cool.

Carrying the TORCH 
Behind the scenes work on the TORCH program began in 2009, and the program started in 2010.

"The program provided the entire student body with an example of what positive behavior looks like," said Lindsay Elias, a kindergarten teacher.

At the center of the program's success is the TORCH team, which is composed of 12 members of the Penn-Kidder staff from all areas of the school.

The team meets monthly to review data, areas of focus, and incentives to keep students on the path of positive behavior, said Jamie Scott, a third-through-fifth grade learning support teacher.

The coveted ticket 
The TORCH program works through a system of tickets. Green TORCH tickets are distributed by all staff members, including teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and bus drivers, to students displaying good behavior, said Ben Warren, a sixth-grade science teacher. Students collect tickets to redeem for prizes in the Penns Den store.

The coveted golden ticket is more elusive. Each day, 10 teachers are given a golden ticket to distribute to a student who has gone above and beyond expectations. This earns them a spot in the Principal's 200 Club.

At the end of the day, the students are called to the office where they pull a number and put their names and photos on a corresponding spot on a board in the lobby. Once there are 10 photos in a row, these students win a secret reward.

"A large benefit (of the TORCH program) is the ability to spread contagious good behavior," said Tanya Rivera, a kindergarten through eighth-grade art teacher. "One of my favorite things is giving out a well-deserved golden ticket … You get to make a positive phone call home.

"Parents love hearing that their child's behavior is exemplary in school."

Benefits abound 
All members of the TORCH team have seen huge improvements at Penn-Kidder.

"The students have become more self-aware of positive behaviors throughout their school day," Scott said. "It has brought a new sense of pride in our building, students, and staff."

Kindergarten teacher Lindsay Elias echoes these sentiments.

"The cohesiveness through all the students has been remarkable," she said. "The older students help at the Penns Den, star in motivational films, and assist at assemblies. It gives the older students ownership and the younger students something to work toward."

Fitting individual needs 
At Penn-Kidder Campus, the main challenge continues to be the wide range of students served by the school.

While tickets for trinkets and toys from the Penns Den store work well for younger students, teachers need a way to reward the older students as well.

Polling the middle school-age students helps with expectations. Teacher-specific rewards, such as eating lunch with a teacher, using the teacher's chair for the day, and extra recess or iPad time, are also available for purchase with TORCH tickets.

There are quarterly incentives for continued good behavior, including popcorn and a movie on the big screen, a day of games, a minute-to-win-it carnival, and a dance.

Students are also able to save large numbers of tickets to "pie" a teacher at the end-of-the-year assembly, Warren said.

Recently, the Penn-Kidder Campus was named a Positive Behavior Intervention System 2014-15 Model School, due in part to the great success of the TORCH program.

Representatives of other schools visit the campus to learn about the program and how they can implement something similar with their students.

The award simply motivates the TORCH team, as the tickets motivate their students.

It was very rewarding to know that the program we worked so hard at was rewarded,'' Scott said. "However, it makes us want to work harder to make sure the program keeps doing well." 

See it for yourself! Watch this program in action at www.psea.org/LearningLessons 

Got a story? If you know about a program that would  make a good feature for "Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools,'' please email Voice Editor John Troutman at jtroutman@psea.org. 



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