It may have been cold and dreary outside, but on Nov. 2 inside the cafeteria at Pleasant Gap Elementary School, things were heating up.
Every student in the school filed into the cafeteria to hear Penn State women's basketball coach Coquese Washington speak. For about an hour, the coach entertained the children. She had them dancing, dribbling basketballs, taking part in a relay race and even read them a storybook.
Throughout the fun, however, there was a message.
“We try to get them fired up about being kind, being courteous, being respectful and being good citizens,” Washington said. “It's important we do that with our young people.”
Washington came to Pleasant Gap Elementary as part of the School Wide Positive Behavior and Intervention System — SWPBIS for short. The program is nationally recognized and is being utilized in all six schools in the Bellefonte Area School District. The theme for the program at Pleasant Gap is based on newspapers and pleasant news. During the first few weeks of school, the teachers shared school rules with the students and the students had an opportunity to practice appropriate behaviors.
The school rules at Pleasant Gap are simple — Be Kind, Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Here and Be Ready.
“It's all about positive choices, making good choices and being good role models, those sorts of things,” said Pleasant Gap principal Tammie Burnaford. “Coach Washington's staff contacted me about her coming to speak and it seemed like a really good fit.”
Indeed it was. The coach engaged the students with tales from the hardwood and read the children's book “Please,” by Alicia Aspinwall.
“We need to be kind to each other,” Washington told the students. “And we've got to be respectful of one another.”
Washington brought several students on stage to participate in different activities. The names were drawn from slips of paper in a basket. The names came from student's “headlines.” Students are given a “headline” when they are following the rules and exhibiting the appropriate behaviors in specific areas.
“The children have really taken to the program,” Burnaford explained.
Washington's son is in the second grade at State College's Easterly Parkway Elementary School. While she's been spending a lot of time there volunteering, this was her first official assembly.
“It's so much fun. I really enjoy getting out and going to the schools and getting people excited about the things going on in our community,” Washington said.
Despite the games, the fun and the noise, Washington is hopeful that the message resonates with the students.
“I hope the message was received. We can never be too kind,” she said. “You've never heard anyone say, 'so and so was too nice to me.' If we can start it younger and getting kids at this age to value the importance of being kind, respectful and communicating positively, I think the next generation will be in good shape.”