Canon-Mac Whale Done program reinforces positive behavior

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CANONSBURG – Staff at Canon-McMillan’s South Central Elementary school have been giving out “Whale Done” awards for five years, but this year, students have a huge reminder in the hall to shore up good behavior – a 20-foot killer whale mural.

Nearly 450 students crammed into the gymnasium on the first day of school Monday to watch a video on the inspiration behind the behavior reward program: trainers at SeaWorld commanding the power of 6-ton orcas, and earning their trust through positive reinforcement. The kids burst into applause as the whales performed various dives and flips. They also cheered when the wraps were torn off the mural outside the gym, painted by art teacher Lauren Trovato.

“Whale Done” started out as a book used by teachers, motivational speakers and business leaders for managing effective teams. Principal Michelle Tomicek said she was a fan since picking up the first edition and has been incorporating the book’s philosophy into school programming ever since.

“If we do something wrong, we know what we did, and we try not to do it again tomorrow,” Tomicek said to students in the assembly.

Tomicek said the reward program has teachers and staff handing out stickers to students when they catch them being good. Stickers can be given for something like correcting previously errant behavior or achieving high scores on a test subject that was difficult for the student.

“Every student gets at least two stickers (a semester), so the goal here is not to exclude anyone, but to reinforce positive behavior and get students acknowledging it themselves,” Tomicek said.

As for the mural, Trovato said she finished it in two weeks over the summer.

“I had to constantly reference things, like the exact position of the eyes, and make sure everything was perfect,” Trovato said.

The mural is the latest but not last addition to the program’s visuals.

“We have magnets now that can be used on the side of a bus if we find a busload of kids has been improving in behavior,” Tomicek said.

And every Wednesday kids receive a tally of their Whale Done accomplishments, further reminding them of their good deeds as the year goes on.

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