The students at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary have swag, and they're not afraid to show it.
Students at the school in Charleston are taking part in new program crated by the Education Alliance that rewards good behavior, attendance and course performance. SWAG, or Students With Awesome Goals, gives students something they can look forward to, said assistant principal Beth Sturgill.
"I see the kids are wanting to help each other," she said. "They do encourage each other, they try to get each other to do their homework and if someone is misbehaving you hear things like ‘hey, man, don't do that,' that kind of thing. They love the idea of swag. That's a very common, hip term for kids these days. They think that's a cool thing to have. That promotes itself — the name itself."
The goal of SWAG is to give students incentives for achieving attendance, behavior and academic goals. The Education Alliance received a grant from the Jacobson Foundation to pay for the incentives, which include wristbands, T-shirts and water bottles. Students receive their prizes for free, but parents have the option of purchasing matching prizes from the school to continue to provide support for the program at home.
"One of the things we've seen is no matter how hard our teachers try and our principals do, we still need that support at home," said Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha. Poore grew up on the West Side and participates in many initiatives and projects at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary.
The program was developed by The Education Alliance's VISTA volunteer Brian Williams.
Several students from different grade levels were rewarded with prizes at an assembly Jan. 18. Sturgill said the program allows students to build a foundation of respectful behavior and academic achievement so they can see success in the future.
"I think at the elementary level, oftentimes you see kids who don't understand they need to look to their future," she said. "We can say ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?' but they don't have the concept of what that means. I think getting them to understand now making those connections between what they do now, the goals they set for themselves helps them build for their future and helps them become whatever it is they want to become. Within this community, I think having that positive influence in their lives is extremely important."
Emily Schoen, the director of strategic relationships and corporate communication with the Education Alliance, said the alliance wants to see the program grow.
"We want to provide it as a resource so it's something the schools can do on their own," she said.
That could go a long way in providing a strong educational background for the state's students and future work force, Poore said.
"It's important," she said of the program. "We talk about jobs. As a state we're always looking to find out what jobs we have, economic development, how can we make our state grow and bring people in. One of the ways we do that is by having a very strong educational base. That's why this is important — not just for the West Side but for the state. This program is something to say, 'Hey, we're not going to let you fall through the cracks. We're not going to let someone put a label on you.' We're going to let you put a label on yourself and say you can have awesome goals, you are capable of doing wonderful things and that you really do have swag."