AYER -- The Page Hilltop School in Ayer has always been on the cutting edge of fostering a positive, enriching environment for their students. They employ the Second Step program, which uses "developmentally appropriate ways to teach core social-emotional skills such as empathy, emotion management, and problem solving," the school counselors bestow "kindness coins" onto children showing positive behaviors, and each classroom works towards rewards for positive classroom behaviors.

Research and child-development experts agree that the best way to decrease unwanted behaviors in children is to give positive reinforcement for the wanted behaviors. Page Hilltop Principal Fred Deppe and the members of the School Council used this well-known fact, along with their desire to always be improving school culture, in developing the PAWS program.

The PAWS program allows any member of the Page Hilltop community to recognize students with a PAWS ticket for displaying any of the four desired attributes that they have identified -- perseverance, acceptance, works and plays well with others, and shows respect.

Once a student receives a ticket, they get to proudly bring one half of it home to show their families, while the other half goes into a bucket for an additional honor.

"On Fridays, we pick five tickets out of the bucket and those students get to pick an additional incentive reward for their behavior," Deppe said. Some of those rewards include having lunch with Deppe and Assistant Principal Karen DeWitt, visiting a younger classroom to read those students a book, enjoying extra gym time with the ever-popular Mary Palmer, or receiving a free book from the book fair.

School Council member and Page Hilltop second-grade teacher Stephanie Marchand has been very pleased with the roll-out of this new program. "The kids have been very excited about the PAWS tickets and they are so proud when they receive one," she said. "This program helps create a positive school-wide community culture, so that our students feel safe and are able to do their very best work here."

Marchand's colleague Lindsay Mele agrees. "This program allows us to recognize children for many virtues that are necessary to be successful in school. Perseverance is so important, and it is wonderful to be able to give a child a PAWS ticket for working hard on an assignment or on a concept they are trying to master."

Five deserving members of the Page Hilltop community had their tickets pulled out of the bucket in mid-October to pick an additional reward for their positive traits.

Third-grader Liliana Kaeppel was honored for picking up crayons in art, and she picked having a special lunch with DeWitt. Third-grader Nick Gamble picked up after some friends who made a mess before a big school assembly, and he picked to spend time helping Marchand. Fourth-grader Nick Dutton showed perseverance when doing the flex arm hang in gym class, and he is going to have lunch with his principal. Second-grader Erin Gamble helped a teacher pick up paper towels on the floor of the girl's bathroom, and she will be reading a book to Ms. Goldthwaite's kindergarten class. Last, but not least, second-grader Djeana Timas was a stellar listener while her classmates forgot that virtue, and she will get to read morning announcements over the school's loud speaker.

Deppe wanted to thank all of the people who worked hard to make this program such a resounding success. "It is always worthwhile to recognize students for making good choices and for being productive members of our school community."