Stratford school officials credit a literacy and behavioral program called Make Your Day for reducing office referral suspensions and hence increasing class time for all students.
But some parents describe the techniques the program uses as "punitive" and "demeaning," and argue that there is not enough research to support that its teaching style benefits students.
Make Your Day (MYD) was first implemented in Stratford at at the start of the 2008-09 school year. It has since spread to , and and elementary schools, according to Assistant Supt. Elaine Watson.
"It puts the onus on the student to understand the expectations of their own behavior," she said. Under the program, a student's misbehavior is usually dealt with inside the classroom, rather than at the principal's office, Watson said. "Anytime kids are taken out of the classroom, there is a problem," she said.
Franklin School principal Lea Ann Bradford told the CT Post that the MYD program in one year cut suspensions in half, from 52 to 26. Watson said Bradford decided to implement MYD at Franklin after losing an administrator. This way, instead of spending time disciplining students in her office, she could focus on academic issues, Watson said.
Because teachers are picking up the slack when it comes to disciplining students, all the teachers in a school must agree with the MYD program and be trained on it before it's instituted in the school, Watson said. All teachers follow the same rules under MYD, she said.
A Student’s Perspective: Going Inside the Classroom
Noah Daponte-Smith entered seventh grade at Wooster Middle School in the 2008-09 school year, when the MYD program was first introduced to Stratford schools.
"We all thought it was an overreaction to the previous eighth-grade class," Daponte-Smith said. "We thought it was misguided."
Daponte-Smith said the program was tied to a point system and at the end of every period a student announced his or her points to the class. The scoring system was based on how well a student thought he or she behaved en route to school and on school grounds, he said.
The most points a student could get in a period was 45 and the maximum for a full day was 325, and students could challenge each other's scores, he said. If a student wasn't granted a minimum of 300 points at the end of the school day, a note was sent home saying the child didn't "make his day," said Daponte-Smith.
"I thought it was bizarre," he said. "It was a weird tool for people to tease each other with and counterintuitive to the whole system."
Another element of the MYD program was something called "Steps," said the now 15-year-old Hopkins School student. With Steps, a student who misbehaved was given three chances to improve his or her behavior in the classroom before being sent to the principal's office, he said.
According to Daponte-Smith, Step One placed a student in a chair outside the area of his classmates, but still in the classroom; Step Two required a student stand with his or her back to a wall; and Step Three turned the student around so that he or she was facing the wall, which had taped on it a message reading, "No one has the right to interfere with a student's education."
Daponte-Smith said he has been told by former classmates' parents that both the points and "Steps" systems are still in play at Wooster this school year.
Assistant Supt. Watson did not share any specific information on MYD instruction, but said "the classic expectations [of the classroom] are there and consistent procedures are followed."
'Completely Outraged' Parents
Beth Daponte pulled her son Noah out of Wooster following seventh grade.
"The whole focus of the day became this punitive program," Daponte said. "I know parents who took their kids out of the school district to private schools -- that's what we did, but other parents felt trapped and couldn't get their kids out."
Daponte said she was one of several "completely outraged" parents who asked the Board of Education to do away with MYD, but the program remained at Wooster because the school board said the teachers and principals all approved of it.
The mother of three also said the program is not a good use of the school district's money.
Watson said there is a one-time cost associated with implementing the MYD program at a school. In the case of Wooster and Franklin, two Title I schools, federal grant funds helped foot the bill, she said.
Moving Forward with MYD
Tom Sullivan has two children enrolled at Second Hill Lane, which just started with MYD this school year. Although he said his children have been "barely impacted" by the program, he fears that the "demeaning and radical" teaching style of MYD will have a harmful effect on Stratford's largest elementary school.
"There are a number of parents, students, as well as teachers that are not happy with this program," Sullivan said.
Watson maintained that the forms of discipline are discrete and are not meant to embarrass the student. Every teacher in a school interested in adopting the program must completely sign on to it, and that includes professional development days before and during the school year, she said.
Watson encourages concerned parents to walk the hallways of the schools that use the MYD program to see it firsthand.
"It's a positive way in getting students to take control of their behaviors so they can maximize the time they can learn," she said.
Editor's note: Watson spoke on behalf of Supt. Irene Cornish. Board of Education Chairman Gavin Forrester declined to comment.