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Photos by VIKI VOLKSouthern Middle School basketball players get instructions before they challenge the faculty to benefit the school's Positive Behavior Intervention Support program.
Learning specialist Adriene Peterson was shaky during the warm-up.
Teachers were dribbling and shooting in the Southern Middle School auditorium. Some were better than others. Some appeared not quite sure what they were doing there.
"They're gonna crush us," Peterson confessed her fears about the upcoming benefit basketball game.
But Principal Sylvia Lawson dismissed such fears.
"These are the more senior members of school," Lawson said in a gruff voice with a coaching kick to it. "We've been practicing for this event for approximately one year," she said. And then burst into laughter.
"That's all a lie," she said and ran up to the basket to catch a teammate's ball and throw it to the next in line.
She was one of the faculty team who appeared to have a grasp of the game.
And when the whistle blew to start the game, it was a teacher who broke from the crowd, raced down the court and scored. It all happened so fast the booing students didn't seem to know for sure who put the first points on the board. But they stomped the bleachers and booed the louder. It seemed to fuel the faculty team.
"Oh my gosh," gasped a member of the student team, "we're gonna lose."
Ultimately the students did lose, but by only 3 points in a game that provided a $2,222 cash infusion to the school's successful Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program. Team leader of PBIS, Southern Middle School's Dean of Students Rae Anne Turlington gushed over the success of last Friday's fundraiser even before the benefit game began.
To draw more families to the event, Turlington said the PBIS team decided to have a dinner before the game.
"You can always get more people in with food," Turlington said with a laugh.
A few calls from Turlington started the community donations rolling in, and she recited each one:
Outback Steakhouse donated 300 chicken fingers, Mom's in the Kitchen sent two pans of vegetarian lasagna, Boomerang's sent a gallon of pork which PBIS matched with two gallons more. Red, Hot and Blue sent over three gallons of potato salad, Bob Evans sent salad for 100 people, Chick-fil-A sent 100 brownies and the Southern Middle School cafeteria sent in macaroni and cheese.
The $5 game and $5 dinner could be had for a combined price of $8, Turlington said, standing between the cafeteria and the game as well-fed spectators filed past her and stopped off at school psychologist Jenny Weaver's table to get their game tickets. Then the crowd filed into the auditorium and packed the bleachers.
When the game began it became clear there would be no giveaways. The teams played hard with only a few minutes erasing the student-faculty equation and turning into team versus team.
After the break-away start the faculty grew the lead, but then lost it to the students who pulled ahead by the start of the second quarter.
"I guess I gotta go in," muttered Pamela Mackall, the loudly cheering reading and language arts teacher who had started shaking her head as the students racked up points on the board.
But then Crystal Hill, the school's media specialist, started bribing the students on the court with SOAR bucks and the students lost their momentum.
SOAR bucks are a big part of the reason for the fundraiser, explained Turlington. The small squares of paper explain the SOAR name: "Show respect, Ownership, A positive attitude and Ready to learn."
When a student demonstrates one of these qualities a teacher rewards them with a SOAR buck. The bucks don't quite work as cash but they can be redeemed in various ways.
Preferring "incentive" to "bribe," Turlington nevertheless laughed when she heard of Hill's on-court ploy.
"Yes, yes, we use them for many things," Turlington said.
The SOAR bucks are put into drawings, which can reap for the winning students gifts of T-shirts, gift certificates, dance passes and other benefits.
The SOAR bucks can also be spent on activities such as movie month or special school dinners such as a recent luau.
The incentive behavior program works for about 80 percent of the school population, Turlington said. For another 15 percent of the students, she estimated, the SOAR bucks often provide a starting place for staff to work with the particular students in additional support programs. This leaves only 5 percent of the student body in need of intervention, Turlington said.
The PBIS program, according to the Maryland PBIS Web site, "focuses on … school-wide procedures and processes intended for all students, all staff and in all settings."
It's working at Southern Middle, Turlington said, and praised the students for a month of no referrals from any staff for any student deemed as needing additional behavior intervention.
When that happened one December, one of the most disruptive school months, Turlington knew the PBIS program was the right track for Southern Middle.
The school's success has also been recognized by the national PBIS consortium which awarded Southern Maryland its "banner" award for meeting PBIS criteria.
As if timed just to demonstrate two students slid down the hallway as Turlington was describing the program at halftime.
"I need you to make some good choices," Turlington said with only a brief break in her story.
"Right now," she added, and the students grinned before returning to the auditorium to watch the second half of the game, which concluded with a faculty win at 39-36.
Close enough, an observer might think, for a rematch.