MCPS Panda Café a coveted reward for hard-working students
By Meg Ferrante
Where once the curtains were drawn and the stage was dark (and a pile of lost-and-found items lay forlornly), the stage in the cafeteria of Morgan County Primary School is now alive and alight with laughing lunchers. Welcome to the new Panda Café.
The setting is decidedly essence of Asian tea house—paper lanterns, long tables low to the ground and diners sitting on big square cushions over oriental rugs. The ambiance is elegant. And the prices? Outrageous. It costs a whopping 50 Panda Paws just to get seat in this joint.
Panda Paws aren’t an ancient Chinese coin but rather currency of a modern Morganian sort. Students at the Primary School collect small, laminated paper panda bears in exchange for positive behavior and get to spend them on many different incentives, the newest of which is the Panda Café. Depending on how hard a student works on their behavior, it can take several weeks to several months—and lots of willpower—to save 50 Panda Paws.
Some kids spend their paws on things like school supplies, candy or toys the day they get them, but for many, they’ve got their eyes on the big prize now. Lunch in the café with a friend of their choosing.
“I don't think the ‘cost’ fazes them,” said second grade teacher Monica Semrad, whose class has spearheaded the café organization and decoration effort. “They are really good at saving those Panda Paws when they want something. The Cafe will be open whenever school is open and we hope it will just keep motivating great behavior among our students. The children love earning and ‘buying’ that privilege.”
Semrad’s second grade class from last school year kicked off the Panda Café idea with the help of the Effective Behavioral and Instructional Strategies (EBIS) committee that works to encourage a positive and supportive learning environment schoolwide. Her class this year was able to put the plan on the fast track, especially after receiving $200 (of the more than $600 given to the EBIS program) from the School Store fundraiser run by fellow second graders, Lamb Eggers’ and Pam Latham’s classes.
As always, while the kids are busy having fun, Morgan County teachers are busy sneaking in the learning.
“We have touched just about every subject area required in second grade with this project,” Semrad said. “We have added and subtracted, measured lengths and areas, counted and budgeted money, identified 2D shapes in choosing rugs, used the writing process to inform the school when we were opening the café and wrote letters to get help from adults in our school. We designed and painted the café sign with (art teacher) Bess Carter and also contacted the Artist’s Guild about possibly painting a mural on the wall—with student help—to complete the café.”
Standards aside, Semrad said she just loves finding a new way to engage her kids to get involved and enjoy what they’re learning. “We’ve all gotten so excited about this project,” she said. “My favorite part is seeing everyone have a chance to shine and feel great about doing something for our entire school.”
Second grade counselor Deanna Klein, is in charge of Character Education and a member of the EBIS committee. She has been impressed at how a little creative thinking has gone a long way toward getting primary school students to buy in to the PAWS positive behavior program.
“The EBIS program has been very effective at our school and we have seen great improvement in school-wide behavior,” she said. “Incentives like the Panda Café really help motivate our students to follow the school rules and earn Panda Paws.”
According to Klein, the incentive has been so popular, half a dozen students have already gone back for a second café visit. Zoey Brown, a Kindergartener in Mattie Saffold’s class, cashed in her cards for several other treats earlier in the year, including a special lunch with her teacher and the chance to take her shoes off in homeroom. Since the café was announced, all her Paws have gone in a pile to save for that opportunity. “The café is the best,” she said. She likes sitting on the stage in front of everyone and taking a good friend up there with her. It’s like a few minutes in the spotlight, she said. “It makes you feel special.” She’s already got more friends asking when she’s going to pick them for her next café visit and she’s plotting how to spend her Panda Paws clear into first grade. Any chance that includes the Panda Café? “Oh yeah,” she said.