UNION COUNTY, N.C. -- As students in Union County are getting ready to go back to school next week, they'll notice some changes if they get in trouble.
After a hard look at the data, administrators in Union County Public Schools realized they needed to change how students should be disciplined.
"We're suspending way too many kids in elementary schools, particularly in kindergarten through sixth grade,” said Union County Public Schools Superintendent Andrew Houlihan. “We're trying to reduce that."
Staff members from schools in Forest Hills and Monroe – including Benton Heights Elementary -- attended special training, hoping to improve managing student behavior.
"We are equipping our students with the skills they need for them to know how to manage conflict in a safe way,” said Benton Heights Assistant Principal Yubely Zolke.
The goal of the training is to reduce the number of suspensions by creating better relationships.
"By doing simple things as shaking their hands, making eye contact and having short conversations with the students,” Zolke said.
How about this for an incentive? Teachers are offering up tiny paper tiger paws that students can cash in for classroom treats.
"To me, they say ‘Miss Hill, look I got a paw,’” said Benton Heights Elementary school counselor Carrie Hill. “And so they're excited about getting that paw. They get that initial validation."
"And then they get to trade that paw in for things that are also going to build more relationships," Zolke said. "We have seen that students are striving to be safe and it has created a culture of safety throughout the school."
While the tiger paw system doesn't exist outside the school walls, administrators say those colorful paws should get the message across.
"I do know that personal and social skills are going to get them ahead in the career game every time," Hill said.