What do 358 elementary students gathered in one gymnasium sound like?
Although the scene should conjure up chaotic images, that's hardly the case during Craig Intermediate School's once-a-month town meetings.
Here, students are too busy listening to classmates earn accolades and watching their peers perform skits to give way to idle chatter or squirminess.
"I like it when people come to perform," fifth-grader Ashley King said. With rapt attention focused on visiting yo-yo champion Tommy Moore, King was enthralled with a town meeting performance Tuesday. She was attentive, much like the sea of peers who surrounded her.
The town meeting concept had its debut about three years ago at CIS as a way for teachers and staff to encourage good behavior and instill values. The entire student body is rounded up during first period to sit in a circle. Lined on the perimeter are teachers and staff.
The theme of each meeting focuses on a positive attribute, which the staff has chosen for the month. Themes include trust, friendship or respect -- which is October's topic. Older students also perform skits for the student body covering social topics pertinent to their peers.
"It's OK not to grow up too fast," one boy said in the skit.
A girl soon offered advice on friendship.
"Don't be afraid to make new friends," she said. "Have boys for friends, but not just for boyfriends."
CIS Counselor Tom Nagoda said he thinks students look forward to the meetings. He can tell because the students are well-behaved during the events.
"If they were bored, we would know," he said. "They wouldn't pay attention if they didn't like it."
Instead, students cheer wildly when a peer is recognized for a good behavior award -- a praise that was given to 41 students Tuesday. Students are recognized by teachers for performing small tokens of respect or compassion to their peers. One student, for example, was singled out for helping another learn guitar, and another was recognized for returning a student's lost lunch money.
First-year CIS Principal Don Davidson said the program helps students learn appropriate social behaviors in a rewarding way. It also offers students a chance to see their teachers in a different light. on Tuesday, teachers dressed up in fancy clothes and danced around the gymnasium to Aretha Franklin's song "Respect" to send home October's theme.
"It provides a little fun," Davidson said of the town meetings. "It becomes a social situation and improves (a student's) attention span. In education, it's important to take small bites."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org