When James J. Fasnacht became assistant elementary school principal for the Tamaqua Area School District last year, he realized something about his job.

Assistant principals in the school district handle disciplinary matters with students, and his interactions with pupils often came down to confronting them when they misbehaved.

"The only time they were getting attention from me is when they were being bad," said Fasnacht. "I felt something was needed that was positive when they were doing something good."

In addition, the district has three elementary schools: Tamaqua, Rush and West Penn Elementary. "We have three schools doing three different things to modify student behavior," noted Fasnacht. "I wanted it to be consistent."

Fasnacht formed a committee of elementary faculty members last spring to discuss what form such a positive reinforcement program could take.

The result is the Raider Rules, a code of conduct for Tamaqua Area's elementary schools instituted with the beginning of this school year.

"We introduced it to the teachers on the last in-service day of the school year and refreshed them with it at the beginning of this year," said Fasnacht.

The Raider Rules use the district's athletic nickname, the Blue Raiders, to reinforce the character traits Fasnacht and the committee want exhibited by students. Taking the letters of "Raiders" to spell it out, those characteristics are Respect, Attitude, Independence, Determination, Enthusiastic, Responsible and Success.

Five core Raider Rules were also developed. They are as follows.

1. I will respect people and property by using kind words and actions.

2. I will keep my hands, feet and objects to myself.

3. I will complete my daily classwork and homework assignments on time.

4. I will cooperate and participate without interruptions.

5. I will do my best to follow directions the first time they are given.

Signs with the "Raiders" traits and the five rules were posted in the hallways and classrooms of each of the schools.

To go along with the new rules, a reward and demerit system was also implemented at each grade level, with results posted in each room for every individual class.

The younger grades, Kindergarten through grade two, have their systems based on animals. Kindergarten students, for example, are the Marvelous Monkeys, with first graders are the Fantastic Frogs and the second graders the Fabulous Fish.

Fasnacht said that system was based on what he saw used in the Blue Mountain School District, where his daughter attended second grade. Information was also obtained from the Mahanoy Area and Reading School Districts.

Bulletin board are posted in the rooms, and students move forward or backwards depending on their behavior. Those that accumulate demerits have recess revoked or must meet with Fasnacht personally, depending on the severity of the problem.

For example, a misbehaving student might get five, 10 or 15 minutes on the hook (off recess) before having to visit with Fasnacht.

"If they have to see me, we say they are caught in coconuts, caught in the net, or their fish is fried," stated Fasnacht.

More importantly, however, the system includes weekly rewards for students who do follow through with the rules, thus providing the positive reinforcement Fasnacht wanted to establish.

"Teachers can stick a chip into a box, jug or can, then roll dice, and that's how many rewards they get," explained Fasnacht. "By being good every day, the students have a better chance to get a prize, and the teachers monitor it to make sure every kid gets a prize."

The prizes are mostly trinkets, such as erasers or pencils, that have been donated to the schools, mentioned Fasnacht.

For the older grades, 3-5, each student has a planner, similar to what they would have at the district's middle school. The planners explain the discipline programs, Raider Rules and demerit system so that they can track when they are getting into trouble, such as with homework completion. Instead of the animal bulletin boards, those grades feature a T-chart display of behavior.

Students in those grades also get weekly rewards, such as movies and extra recess.

There is also a rewards assembly planned for each month for the students who have followed the rules. The first such assembly included an entertaining presentation by Rocky and Ricky Bonomo, the former brother wrestling standouts at Bloomsburg University.

Students who end up with six demerits or more in any month aren't allowed to attend the reward assemblies, field trips or the year-end Olympic and Fun Days. Students do start each with fresh with zero demerits.

Fasnacht said that, barring unusual circumstances, students would not be excluded from activities that are designed to better their overall academic and social growth, such as skill-building assemblies and musical performances.

"It's a work in progress, but it has been working," said Fasnacht. "We're not going to make changes this year, but the committee will reconvene in January to see if anything needs to be changed in the future.

"So far we have seen a decrease in behavioral problems, because there are steps that can be taken before they get to me. There's an immediate response to any negative behaviors, and the kids are being rewarded for being good.

"It has worked good so far as behavior is concerned. The only thing we have struggled with is homework, and we are trying to provide intervention to work with these kids and get them as much help as we can."

Fasnacht thanked the committee members, including Charise Fiorilla, Maureen Schoener, Liz Marakovitz, Kelly Reaman, Diane Michalik, Vanessa Boyle and Jennifer Kinder, as well as the faculty as a whole for their cooperation in implementing the program.

Prizes for the rewards program were provided through businesses such as Rita's Italian Ice, McDonald's, DiMaggio's La Dolce Casa, Burger King, Spare Time Bowling Center, Climb-A-Lot Clubhouse, Applebee's, Damon's, Friendly's as well as administrators, including Superintendent Carol Makuta, Assistant Superintendent Raymond J. Kinder and Special Education Director Greg Koons.