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These students are proud to show 'swag'

By Bridget May

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Education Alliance is asking students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School to show their "swag" by achieving the goals of the new Students With Awesome Goals program.

Founded 30 years ago, the alliance helped connect businesses to schools but now focuses on increasing student success by offering a variety of mentoring programs.

"The SWAG program is another new initiative we started this year," explained Emily Schoen, director of strategic relationships and corporate communications for the alliance.

Schoen said the SWAG program could be very beneficial because it focuses on elementary students.

"It's early intervention," she said. "The longer you wait, the more of a chance you have that that students are not going to be able to be caught and brought back into doing well in their school."

The West Side school kicked off the pilot project in January under the supervision of Brian Williams, an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

Members of VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America, make a commitment to serve full-time for one year at a nonprofit or local government agency. During that time they work to combat illiteracy, improve health services, generate businesses, and bolster community groups, among other things.

Williams came up with the idea for the SWAG program while working on a project to develop a coloring book.

"I was just brainstorming on a theme to develop the coloring book around, and the Lord just put that in my spirit; SWAG, students with awesome goals," Williams recalled.

Drawing from popular culture, the SWAG concept is putting a positive spin on a word children hear daily on the radio and on television. But in the school setting, good behavior, good grades and attendance are "swag."

Students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade were given wristbands that say "SWAG," and Williams said he hears kids in the hallways talking about how they have "swag."

Schoen said the program has been well-received by students and teachers.

It is designed to engage the students and give them a sense of ownership by allowing them to come up with ways to promote SWAG, like making posters and announcing it on the school's morning television show.

During biweekly assemblies, students and teachers get together to promote the program and to talk about the importance of the goals.  

Williams said the concept has taken on "a life of its own."

There is even a SWAG Kids Dance Club that students in grades three through five can participate in as an elective.

The driving force behind the program is incentives and showing students that doing good things will yield positive results.

Students have the opportunity to earn rewards in three areas: attendance, behavior and course performance, or "cool grades."

Each nine weeks students are challenged to meet criteria in each of the three areas. At the end of the current period, students will receive a T-shirt that says "SWAG." Parents are encouraged to get involved by purchasing T-shirts to match their children's.

Students who make the A or B honor roll, and the student who is most improved, will have satisfied the requirements for the "cool grades" component.

To fulfill the behavior aspect, students must earn an A conduct grade and have no suspensions for the nine weeks. Students also cannot have more than one unexcused absence and no more than two unexcused tardies.

In the future, Williams hopes to establish a store where the students can earn SWAG Bucks that they can spend on SWAG merchandise.

"The possibilities are limitless," he said. He hopes to see the program expand to other schools across the state and eventually nationwide.


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