Cedar Springs — The cafeteria at a PK-1st grade school may seem an odd place to find mood lighting and a special kind of ambiance for lunch. But every Friday, that’s exactly what happens at Cedar Trails Elementary.
In the corner of the room where the lights are dimmed, one long table is decorated to the nines. It’s covered with black tablecloths, upon which sit several (battery-powered) flickering candles in a line down the middle of the table. Every few feet between the candles, there’s a glass vase filled with beautiful (fabric) flower arrangements. The setup rivals the tables at a wedding reception, if that reception were held in an elementary school cafeteria.
And the kids know exactly what — and who — it’s for. In fact, a hungry Harrison Wells breaks out into a slight jog toward the table when he and his classmates round the corner and see the elegant décor.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this,” the first-grader yells while circling the table to find the perfect seat. “We get the fancy table! I love the fancy table!”
The fancy table is the spot for Cedar Trails’ “fancy lunches”. (The name was somewhat of an afterthought, Assistant Principal Cortney O’Brien admits.) For an experience awarded to one kindergarten and one first-grade class each Friday, it was created out of the school’s PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) rewards to recognize students and classes for their positive actions, words and behavior at school.
“We make an announcement every Friday morning about which two classes get (a fancy lunch that day), so that the whole school gets to hear it, and they get very excited,” said O’Brien. “Those two classes are the ones who have really been modeling the most, for the week, what it means to be a Red Hawk, and to be kind, safe, responsible and brave.”
The decision isn’t arbitrary — in fact, those positive behaviors are tracked and on display in the hallways at Cedar Trails for everyone to celebrate. Throughout the week, students can earn a “Hawk Squawk” (a paper token of recognition) for modeling one of the building’s expectations of being kind, safe, responsible and/or brave.
It isn’t just about individual recognition, however. Classes can work together on one or more of these positive behaviors for the week. That collective effort can win their class a “Golden Hawk Squawk,” which in turn means — you guessed it — a fancy lunch at the fancy table in the cafeteria.
“We’re really trying to make sure each class gets to have that (lunch) experience,” O’Brien said. “If there’s a class that maybe is struggling with one specific expectation, like being kind, then our recess coaches will tell that class, ‘I’m really watching for kind Red Hawks today,’ which gets (students) thinking about it. And this way, it’s not just one kid earning it for their own class with their good behavior – it’s the whole class working together on those (behavior expectations).”
O’Brien said Cedar Trails leaders chose lunchtime for the reward because that was when they most often saw behavior challenges or students acting out — that period of unstructured time before recess or the “settling down” time after recess. Since the fancy lunches started in November, she said teachers are seeing things move “in the right direction.”
“It feels good to be recognized for good things that they’re doing — it gives (students) buy-in with our building expectations,” she said. “If they’re feeling appreciated, then they’re more apt to be focused and learning and they’re more receptive to hard work. It’s just like adults in the workplace: if you feel appreciated for good work, you’re more willing to put more effort into what you’re doing.”
And after a long week of learning, studying and modeling good behavior, classmates Kennedy and Savannah agreed that their fancy lunch was a great way to spend a Friday afternoon.
“I sat by the candles, and I really liked it,” said Savannah as she finished her lunch.
Added Kennedy: “I think it’s really fun — I like to see all the fun stuff on the tables.”