Calgary school axes honour roll, saying it often hurts ‘self-esteem and pride’ of students who don’t make it
Reid Southwick and Trevor Howell, Postmedia NewsTuesday, Oct. 29, 2013
Lohini Winn, with her son Andreas, is among the parents that are upset that St. Basil Elementary and Junior High School is moving away from recognizing student academic achievements. Lorraine Hjalte/Postmedia News
CALGARY — A Calgary school’s decision to stop rewarding students for their academic achievements has reignited a debate over whether such award programs should remain in the classroom.
Roughly 250 students in Grade 7 to 9 will no longer compete for the honour roll after St. Basil Elementary and Junior High School axed academic awards and year-end ceremonies.
“Awards eventually lose their lustre to students who get them, while often hurting the self-esteem and pride of those who do not receive a certificate,” school officials said in a letter to parents explaining the decision
Many parents and students have expressed shock and disappointment, and ask why officials would take away a sense of purpose for young learners and an incentive for students to work harder to get better grades.
“The kids that care, that are trying but don’t ever achieve one, well there’s something to be learned from that,” said Jason Redelback, whose 14-year-old son is enrolled at St. Basil.
“You teach kids how to win, you teach kids how to lose,” Mr. Redelback added. “But you also teach them how to improve themselves and give them goals to strive for.”
The school’s letter to parents cites the work of education guru Alfie Kohn, who contends that “dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.”
School principal Craig Kittelson acknowledged that line of thinking runs counter to tradition, but the school has the best interest of its students in mind.
“We’re not saying not to set high goals,” Mr. Kittelson said. “We’re still striving to get them to do their best. Kids want to do their best and we want to support them in doing their best.”
Mary Martin, chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, would not say whether she backs the decision, but that she supports allowing schools to make their own choices based on their unique circumstances.
“I am aware of some schools where there has been a movement away from the one or two times a year where you stand up and get these certificates,” Ms. Martin said. “And the reason they are doing that is they are trying to reward students in a way that’s relevant to their kids and more frequently.”
An earlier forum on academic awards in the Calgary Catholic School District had revealed divisions among school administrators, trustees and parents on the effects that formal recognition has on students.
‘You teach kids how to win, you teach kids how to lose’
There were concerns among those attending the forum that honours and award programs can sow jealousy among classmates, cause undue stress and spur children who are not top achievers to give up because they never win.
Others felt that such programs build a sense of community, boost self-esteem, encourage students to work harder and open doors to scholarships down the road.
In 2007, Red Deer teacher and author Joe Bower helped spearhead a similar move to end awards ceremonies at Red Deer’s Westpark Middle School, where he then taught. But rather than end all awards, the school decided to broaden its scope, allowing teachers and students to celebrate the individual strengths and improvements of kids through personalized recognition posters.
The response from parents of students at the Red Deer school was “overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
“We need to broaden our narrow view of what we recognize in children and what we call success and evidence of success,” Mr. Bower said. “Right now, many schools just focus on 80% in their core subjects. That’s a pretty narrow view.”
Dropping awards ceremonies, or celebrating all students’ achievements, doesn’t — as many have charged — foster mediocrity, said Mr. Bower.
“Every child has strengths and something to be celebrated,” he said. “And if you can’t find them, then you’re not looking hard enough.”
At St. Basil, praise and recognition will now be immediate through feedback from teachers.
“We know there’s value in many, many traditions, and this is something that we debated as well,” Mr. Kittelson said.