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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Principal pays kids not to fight

A bulletin board at Mitchell Elementary in Philadelphia shows the number of days without a fight involving eighth graders. Photo: Michael Bryant/

At a high-poverty, low-performing K-8 school in Philadelphia, eighth graders don’t get into fights any more. Their principal promised to pay each student $100 if they reach graduation without any fighting, reports Kristen A. Graham on If any of the 33 eighth graders break the peace, they all lose the money.

“They have a choice — to become the violence they see in their day-to-day lives, or to be peaceful models for our school and our community,” said Stephanie Andrewlevich, principal of Mitchell Elementary. She’s put up her own money, but hopes a sponsor will cover the rewards.

. . . at first; the students were motivated by the money. “They’d tell each other, ‘Don’t mess up my $100!,’ when there was a problem in the hallway and it seemed like a fight might happen,” the principal said. But as the weeks went on, the eighth-graders internalized the message. No one has forgotten it, but staff rarely hear the students mention the cash these days. There are daily reminders: It’s day 50! It’s day 63! There’s a buzz in the building, a movement. Eighth graders conduct peer-mediation sessions with younger students, and the school will soon open its “Peaceful Place,” a room for students to cool down and practice conflict-resolution techniques.

Eight percent of the eighth-graders have been suspended so far this year, down from 17 percent at the same point last year and 21 percent in 2016, reports Graham.

Zakiya Barnes-Wiggins “was always trying to fight somebody,” she told the reporter. “But now, I don’t use my hands. I talk about it. And it’s better this way — our teachers can teach more.”

Bribing students to behave sounds awful. But . . . what if it’s the only way to get their attention?

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