A visit to the Robert Moton Elementary School principal's office was losing its punch as a disciplinary measure.
The child sent there for misbehavior often was delighted to be at the center of things while waiting to face the principal.
"A school office is a very exciting place," said Principal Rebecca Erdeljac. "They listen to phone conversations, see who's going to the nurse for what, watch their classmates go by in the hall."
That's not what the adults wanted, nor what the child needed.
So, a group of teachers on the school improvement team came up with an alternative, something they call a "support room."
They wrote a proposal and got a $5,800 grant from Deputy Superintendent Brian Lockard. The money will pay an assistant to work with children who need to reflect on what they did and how they could behave better.
Ten other schools won small grants through the in-house contest Dr. Lockard started last year. He invited school improvement teams to compete for about $30,000 he set aside in his budget.
In some cases, Dr. Lockard waived existing policies for the ideas the schools submitted, so the staff could try innovative approaches.
At Robert Moton, teachers felt so strongly about the support room that they didn't wait for the grant, said Jim Bullock, chairman of the discipline committee that proposed it. Mr. Bullock teaches motor development at the school.
"We thought it was important to start in September," he said.
With no extra money available, they used two instructional assistants who normally work with classroom teachers. The teachers agreed to give up some of the help so the two women could each spend half the day staffing the support room.
Mr. Bullock said he believes that one reason Robert Moton got the grant is that he had hard numbers backing the proposal.
Last year, Mr. Bullock counted the number of children sent to the office for misbehavior, and found that 27 percent of the students had been there at least once.
"That's one in four children," he said. Eight children had been to the office 10 to 17 times last year.
This year, most of those eight students are not even being sent to the support room, he said, because their teachers have found ways to prevent their behavior from getting out of hand.
The discipline committee drew up a list of these strategies and gave them to all teachers. A teacher can enlist students in making up rules for the class, praise students when they do well and encourage students to praise each other.
The list suggests teachers use humor and other disarming tactics, such as asking the student to advise the teacher.
Still, there are times when these don't work, and children find themselves in the support room. It is decorated with posters about respect and responsibility, and a large blue sign with the school behavior guide printed on it.
"The idea is to support the child and help them be responsible for their own behavior," Ms. Erdeljac said.
Assistant Marigene Sageman works in the room in the mornings, and Joan Knott works afternoons. Ms. Erdeljac hopes to hire an assistant within two weeks so Ms. Knott and Ms. Sageman can return full time to regular classroom work.
Ms. Knott said teachers give students three warnings before sending them to the support room. If the child continues to misbehave after the third warning, he will come with a referral slip from a teacher, saying why he was sent.
"It might be they can't settle down in a class and need some time out," Ms. Sageman said. "Or they can't stay on task. Or they could have a cafeteria problem, not staying in their seat."
The assistants enter the child's name into a log. Entries for the past two weeks show two girls and about two dozen boys, but neither the assistants, the principal nor Mr. Bullock could explain why.
"We keep them maybe 15 or 20 minutes," Ms. Knott said. The child gets a "problem-solving sheet" to fill out.
For younger children, the sheet is simple, with two headings. On one side, they fill out what they did wrong. Some children can draw it if they can't write it, Mr. Bullock said. On the other side, they fill out how they could have behaved better.
For older children, a slightly more complicated form also asks them who their actions bothered, three alternatives they could have used and why good behavior is important.
A copy of the form must go home to parents and come back with a signature. If the form doesn't come back the next day, Ms. Sageman calls the parents to make sure they saw it. Usually they did, she said, and always, the parents have been supportive.
The other schools and grants won are:
* Freedom Elementary School -- $3,738, most of which went to hiring a half-time assistant so children can attend a full day of kindergarten.
* Carrolltowne Elementary School -- $318 for substitute teachers so first-grade teachers can have a 30-minute conference with each student's parents within the first grading period.
* Francis Scott Key High School -- $1,260 for training teachers in a program that shows them how to raise their expectations and (( get students to perform better.
* Hampstead Elementary School -- $4,743 to establish a math computer lab, to improve student scores on the California Test of Basic Skills and the statewide criterion-reference tests.
* Mechanicsville Elementary School -- $3,402 for substitutes so teachers can train in a program called Dimensions of Learning.
* Mount Airy Elementary -- $3,000 to train staff in boosting student self-esteem by improving math problem-solving skills and involving parents in the effort.
* Piney Ridge Elementary School -- $1,836 to supplement other efforts at developing a comprehensive family literacy program for kindergartners at risk of doing poorly in school. The point will be to better prepare parents for helping their children succeed.
* William Winchester Elementary School -- $3,724 to hire an assistant and offer a full day of kindergarten.
* North Carroll High School -- $336 for a one-hour faculty training session on teen pregnancy and self-esteem.
* Westminster High School -- $1,407 to train faculty members to serve as a steering team for multicultural training of other staff.