Caring Cats

 In Administrator Resources, Aspiring Principals Conference, Climate, Districts, Fall Professionals Conference, INSPIRE3, Leadership Development, Principal of the Year, Principal Programs, Professional Development Opportunities, Student Programs

Guest blog post by Glenn Buechlein


“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”. – C.S. Lewis

When I was lucky enough to be hired as the assistant principal at my hometown high school in 2012, I promised to bring a new approach and outlook that centered on relationship-building. With the ongoing support of many others, I was able to create and nurture several programs that serve our students in a positive manner. As proud Jasper Wildcats, it seemed fitting to name our flagship program “Caring Cats”.

Caring Cats began in 2012 as a way for teachers and staff to recognize students for simply doing the right thing or going above and beyond. This could include excelling in academics, exhibiting a great work ethic, or possessing a polite and friendly attitude. The recognition is not needs based, although sometimes it’s taken into account.

Caring Cats has raised over $25,000 and awarded approximately $22,000 to 160 students. We have utilized a variety of methods to fund the program: We established a nest egg by staffing concessions and continue to get a steady flow of proceeds by allowing teachers to contribute $1 to wear jeans on Fridays. Additionally, several generous community organizations donate annually due to the worthiness of the cause.

Students who are nominated by teachers and staff are rewarded with a shopping trip to a local retail clothing store partner. The owner and employees are fully invested in our program, and they strive to make this a truly special experience for all students. New relationships are forged and bonds created. Students who did not know one another prior to this experience now recognize and greet each other when passing in the halls. New connections are made with our school staff who accompany the students as they shop. Students now have some additional “go-to” people at the school. Students are also able to communicate and develop a rapport with the store employees and in several cases have actually been hired.

I had the honor of calling each nominated student to my office to inform them they had earned a prestigious recognition as being a “student of the month.” I explained that they would be rewarded by being taken on a shopping spree to splurge on themselves. After all, you earned it. They seemed unaffected by the reward and were more focused on the fact that they were noticed or acknowledged. Many stated that they did not think anyone noticed them. But someone did notice, and their reaction says a lot about their character. They continued to do well even when they believed no one noticed. They did what they did because it was the right and best thing to do.

One thing we have noticed with the program is that students are reluctant to treat themselves with their reward money. In a time where many regard young people as selfish, the opposite has proven true in our experience. Students had to be coaxed to buy more, and their own generosity emerged. It was not uncommon for students to

purchase items for their siblings, parents or peers. Students, in essence, were paying it forward.

Caring Cats is also designed to help students feel more comfortable at school so they can get down to the business of being a student. Appearance can sometimes cause students to be the targets of bullies. The simple addition of new clothes can serve to mitigate these occurrences. “Caring Cats” has also been used to help students in need by providing funds to buy diapers, pay for veterinarian visits, cell phone minutes, eye glasses, food, haircuts, graduation cap and gowns, lunch money, utilities and aid to families after fires. It is safe to say that if a student requires help, we have the ability to funnel resources their way.

Mrs. Deb Schum, office manager, who spearheads the Caring Cats Program says, “When you see these students in the hall wearing their new attire with a smile on their face, your heart is so full. I truly wish everyone could be as lucky as I am to share this special time with students.” Click here to learn more about the program.

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