Students shop on Fridays as part of positive behavior program supported by the community.
For principal Maria McDonald, affectionately known as Mrs. Mac at PACE West school in Gainesville, “schools should be an integral part of the community they inhabit.” A little known, fun part of the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention Program is helping enhance the connection between our community and the children at this school. It’s called the PROWL Pantry (Prepared, Responsible, Open-minded, and Willing to Learn) and the original concept was implemented about 15 years ago. As part of the PROWL Pantry program, students earn points for “making good choices, meeting academic expectations, and showing responsible behavior,” says Mrs. Mac. These points are accumulated until the exciting day of the week comes when the pantry is open for business. On Fridays, kids “shop” during their lunch hour. It gives a whole new meaning to TGIF for these kids.
The pantry’s humble beginnings were a skinny cabinet filled with toys, games, snacks — basically anything that would appeal to the kids attending school at the time — and was stocked by the teaching staff from a small part of the school’s budget. But one day about 10 years ago, PACE principal at the time Dr. Mary Ellen Garduno and staff member Kecia Wolf visited and spoke to the Gainesville-Haymarket Rotary Club about how the community could help the school. Inspired to act, Rotary Club members Linda Marlow and Amelia Stansell had lunch one day to discuss it. This is when the vision of the PACE Village was born. This village, named after the catchphrase “it takes a village,” would be a group of organizations, churches, and women’s groups that could work together to fill in the gaps for needs in the community. More key players were brought in to the PACE Village from the Rotary Club, Dominion Woman’s Club, Haymarket Gainesville Business Association, and local churches and businesses. The village began initiatives to fill funding needs in the community as well as other special projects. One of those projects was the PROWL Pantry. The Gainesville-Haymarket Rotary Club approved a grant and the Dominion Woman’s Club provided donated items to help the pantry move towards the important program that currently exists.
Currently, the Dominion Woman’s Club and the Rotary Club work hand-in-hand to keep the pantry supplied and provide a group of volunteers who come every Friday to run it. The items available have changed throughout the years and have grown from a few items to more than a hundred, including pokemon cards, clothes, and sports gear. All items available for “purchase” from the pantry were donated to the school. When students earn 1000 points in good behavior, it equates to 1 point to spend at the store. The volunteers running the pantry happily accept suggestions from the kids as to what items would most motivate them to earn points, and then will solicit those items to be donated from the community or will use the budget from their organizations to shop for them.
A visit to the school on any of these fun Friday afternoons would find students excitedly finishing their lunches so they have plenty of time to peruse any new items in the pantry since the last opening. They check in with their teacher to confirm the amount of points they have earned or banked, and then spend some time looking around, talking it over with their friends, and making the ever important decision to spend or take the chance of saving their points for any possible new items the next week. Some kids will have their eyes on a particular item that is worth a high number of points so they learn to budget and save.
During the holiday season, these points become ever more important because some students use them to purchase gifts for their loved ones. This is something they particularly enjoy since they can use their own form of money and feel proud when giving it to the recipient. This is a time when teachers know the points may feel more valuable to the kids so rewarding them for achieving their goals reaps its own benefits.
Here are some anecdotes to show the impact this program has had on these students’ lives.
“I had a student who worked extra hard during the school day to work to be on level 1. Once he was promoted to level 1 he would complete all of his work and have successful days in order to go to Prowl Pantry on Fridays. He would be so excited when he would come back from lunch and would give his friends gifts that he purchased for them. He enjoyed being able to spend his hard earned points on his family and friends. He would also buy things for his teachers and for his foster parents.” — teacher Mrs. G
“I have a student that starts talking about Prowl Pantry in the early mornings on Friday. He gets excited to buy gifts for friends and family and sometimes a little treat for himself if he does well. He bought headphones recently and wears them to and from school.” — teacher Mr. Mike
“I have a student that emails me a list of certain items he would like to earn through successful days, kind acts, completing his work and being safe. He asks and asks about his prizes and has to discuss his behaviors with me before he earns the reward. It allows him to reflect on his own behaviors and work hard for his reward. This student is doing so well, that we are considering transitioning him to his base school this school year.” — Principal Mrs. Mac
But the children aren’t the only ones benefiting from this program. The volunteers truly enjoy the time they spend with each other and with the children. Mrs. Mac encourages them to engage students in conversation and assist them in making their decisions. This program serves as another way these children can have positive and enjoyable interactions as part of their day, especially with people who are giving their own time to a cause they hold near to their heart. Amelia Stansell adds that this “hidden jewel” in our community has allowed her to develop a bond with kids through seeing them grow through the years and gain confidence. “Many are special needs and to watch them come out of their shells and build rapport and relationships with the various volunteers was amazing to watch,” she says.
Volunteer Martha Feeney explains that the entire experience is rewarding for her, including “shopping for items for the pantry, sharing the time on Friday with a member from the Rotary Club, seeing the excited faces of the younger students as they come into the cafeteria on pantry day, and watching the students mature over the years.” Volunteer Donna Flory also really enjoys hearing the stories about the other volunteers’ time spent with the students and shopping for the students’ requested items. “Knowing that a student is going to have an exceptional Friday when they see the item they’ve been wanting makes me smile!” she says.
Being part of these organizations isn’t the only way those in the community can help this program. Mrs. Mac emphasizes that the community can offer support in the way of donating new or gently used items; some examples are gift cards, books, music, video games, toys, socks, earbuds, sports gear, and so much more. She suggests calling the school first if you have something in mind or need more ideas on how to help.
Visit pacewest.pwcs.edu to learn more about PACE West school or call 571-402-3700 to ask how you can help.