At Mitchell Elementary in Philadelphia, a school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood where violence is a way of life, the principal has come up with an effective way to stop her students from fighting: pay them.
Principal Stephanie Andrewlevich made a pledge to the 33 eighth-graders at her school: If they can make it through the end of the school year with no fights, each of them will get $100 cash.
But, it’s a team effort: If any students get in a fight, no one gets the money. Now, what started off as the pursuit of cash has actually transformed an entire school, the Philly Inquirer reports.
How did it start?
Andrewlevich observed her eighth-graders on a field trip in September, and saw them getting along well and behaving perfectly.
Knowing all the obstacles these children would face because of where they live, she was determined to protect their potential and protect them from the corrosive nature of their surroundings.
After all, they would be in high school next year, around other students and teachers who might not be as invested in their success as the elementary school teachers who have been around them for years.
So, she came up with the $100 incentive to motivate her students to be their best selves before moving on to the next phase of life.
“I wanted to challenge them to be what their families see in them, what we know they are,” Andrewlevich told the Philly Inquirer. “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.”
She hopes to find a sponsor for the program, but she is willing to pay the entire $3,300 if necessary.
How is it working?
At first, the students were just worried about protecting their $100, referring to it when conflicts would arise and opting not to escalate it.
Eventually, however, the money became a background concern, rarely mentioned as the students’ mindset against fighting settled into habit.
“Mostly, we just don’t want to fight anymore,” one student, Zakiya Barnes-Wiggins said. "Now, I don’t use my hands. I talk about it. And it’s better this way — our teachers can teach more.”
What about the school?
Certainly, $100 might not seem like much money to some people, but 81 percent of the students at Mitchell Elementary live below the poverty line, with some of them homeless, food insecure, or forced to be independent due to absent or rarely present parents.
This school year, only 8 percent of eighth-graders have been suspended from school, down from 17 percent at this time last year, and 21 percent in 2016.
Andrewlevich is hoping to use this incentive as a starting point for more progress at the school, such as peace rallies and other activities. She doesn’t view it as simply a bribe.
“I see it as an investment in our kids,” Andrewlevich said.