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Monday, February 11, 2008

Wristbands spark positive changes in behavior

By Pamela McLoughlin
Register Staff
— Harborside Middle School sixth-grader Liam Oliver was mad at himself Wednesday for doing something he never used to think about.
He caught himself complaining three times in the first few hours of school when he criticized classmates for not knowing the three main theories about how the moon was created.
Another Harborside student who is usually rude to others was extra polite Wednesday in the hallways and class, said the boy’s friend, eighth-grader Matt Oullette.
And sixth-grader Bryan Woodmansee said he’s got a whole new attitude, that will suit him at home.
“I complain a lot about my mom’s cooking,” Bryan said.
Has Principal Ken Saranich discovered a miracle cure for the whining, complaining, bullying, spreading rumors, rudeness and other such attitude maladies that seem to plague middle schoolers in large numbers?
No, it’s much simpler.
The secret lies in the Complaint Free World project launched by the Rev. Will Bowen in Kansas City about a year ago. The program was brought to Harborside by PTO President John Profetto, also owner of the popular Rainbow Gardens restaurant.
Students who choose to participate in the program — and most did at the Harborside school launch Wednesday — wear a purple wristband with the program name and word “spirit” imprinted on it.
Each time a student or adult in the program violates the rules by complaining — and that includes any kind of negative comment — they have to move the band to the other wrist. The idea is to spark thought and change behavior.
The goal is to go 21 days straight without having to switch the wristbands, because studies show it takes at least that long to break a habit.
Harborside is believed to be the first school in the state to take part in the program, Saranich said.
Nearly 5 million wristbands have been distributed worldwide to churches, families, hospitals, prisons, corporations, schools and other places.
Profetto, who brought the idea to the school after his own family did it at home beginning on Christmas Day, said he still hasn’t gone even a day without switching wrists, although he’s given many of his own wristbands to customers and others who are interested.
He said changing negative behaviors is easier for kids than adults because the habit is less ingrained.
Principal Saranich loved the idea and started wearing his bracelet a month ago, then introduced staff to the concept. Last Wednesday, the school’s 554 students were offered bracelets as part of the voluntary program. Also, 65 staff members got on board. He started with 600 bracelets and there’s a rush order in for more.
Saranich said he hopes that by thinking twice about complaints, students will find more constructive ways to communicate, even if it’s something like letting a teacher know there’s too much homework.
Saranich still finds himself carrying complaints home to his wife or from one professional meeting to the next. He said his personal goal is to “treat other people the way I would want to be treated.”
At least in the first few hours of the program, the purple bracelet fever had caught on. Students were abuzz with conversation, self-correction and even telling friends when they made a complaint that they failed to notice themselves. However, pointing out another’s oversight is a complaint and grounds for switching bracelets.
“It really makes you think,” said eighth-grader Cassie Gildea, a student leader. “You just don’t realize how much you complain.”
Sixth-grader Madison Mawrer also sees the value.
“Some complaining can hurt others, like talking behind someone’s back,” Madison said.
Matt, a student leader who talked about his formerly rude friend, said the program is a good idea.
“It would be nice if it could be spread worldwide,” he said.


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