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'Making the Grade' -- A Special Report

'Making the Grade' -- A Special Report

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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Bruce Lindsay reportingWhat do you do with a school that is failing?

In tonight's Eyewitness News Extra, Bruce Lindsay discovered how one school with a long history of underperforming believes it's turned things around.

Ogden's Central Middle School has not made the grade for nine years. All that time, it's been on "improvement" --a term educators use for "probation."

The inner city school, challenged by poverty and other barriers, just could not get enough students to pass math and language arts requirements. But now, Central's turned the page -- in a most unconventional way.

Juan Camarena/Central Middle Student: "Can I buy a whoopee cushion and two Sweet Tarts?"

Candy and a Whoopee Cushion-- the secret to success? It works for Juan Camarena!

Juan Camarena/ Student, Central Middle School: "I went to tutoring so they can help me a lot in math, and take lots of tests and do well in them."

Juan bought his stuff with points he earned by mastering concepts, points he can spend in the school's Token Economy Store.

Debbie Gomberg/ Retired Administrator: "These kids are not dumb. They're poor. They're not dumb."

Debbie Gomberg supervised the intervention team that set to work to last Spring to turn the school's culture of failing around.

Debbie Gomberg/ Retired Administrator: "More than anything it signaled to these students and their families that these concepts and learning is important. And it changed the culture."

Buzz Stumm/ Teacher, Central Middle School: "I was surprised at some of the kids who I never thought would ever turn a book. And they were attending after school tutoring, and they were passing the concepts on the test. It made a difference."

Jenny Villacano/ Student, Central Middle School: "I used to be like, get really low scores in math. Now, I get really high scores."

Jenny Villacano found first motivation in a hair crimper she bought with points from summer school.

Jenny Villacano/ Central Middle Student: "I have more confidence in myself to do the work."

There's plenty of motivation where that came from-- a display case is filled with stuff to get from Earning for Learning.

Mike Bennett/ School Consultant: "They have to have a jump start."

Mike Bennett is the consultant who designed Central's token economy as a way to change students' attitudes about learning and about themselves.

Mike Bennett/ School Consultant: "They feel good about themselves when they've had to earn something, when they've had to work for it."

Bennett's intervention involves much more than awarding points for prizes, but Central used that to entice more than 100 kids to attend summer school. And the improvement in their test scores, earned the school a passing grade for the first time in nine years.

Yes, there was skeptcism about using extrinsic rewards. But--

Lana Dean/ Asst. Principal: "We were in a situation where we needed some significant change. And we needed to get the parents' and the children's attention how important the tests were."

Central is making enormous efforts to enlist parental support, and this month drew 300 parents to an evening meeting. Teachers, students and administrators say the school has something it lacked before: Hope.

Cathy Ortega/Ogden School District Superintendent: "When they feel success and know they're capable of doing something, that breeds the willingness to try."

Central is excited about the changes.

Fundraising efforts are underway to support its token economy program. Although it costs a fraction of one teacher's salary, there is no provision for such spending under traditional education budgets.

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