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When I visit a school, I am always struck by the traditions and rituals that help establish the school’s identity and signal what a school values.

Most high schools have lots of traditions around athletics, for example. We’re now in homecoming season, which was certainly a big deal at my kids’ high school.

It’s in the non-sports traditions that you can see the real values of a school, though. At Elmont Memorial High School, Diane Scricca established a tradition when she was principal, from 1997 to 2001, of making a collage of student photographs in her office. Every year began a new board, and students would bring in their school photos or she would post photos from school events. At the end of the year she would laminate it and post it somewhere in the hallways. Current Principal John Capozzi keeps up the tradition, and students from years’ past know that there is a reminder on the walls of the time they spent there. It is simple and low-cost (always important to schools), but it demonstrates that Elmont values its students and wants them to feel a part of the school and its history.

This spring I witnessed a school tradition at Menlo Park Elementary in Portland, Ore., which I thought interesting.

Students are nominated by their teachers to be “Student of the Day,” as a recognition of their responsible behavior, often involving kindness to or consideration of other students. Two are named by the principal on the intercom as part of morning announcements. They come to the principal’s office for a congratulations and a handful of Skittles from an old-fashioned candy machine (hygienically stored in a plastic sandwich bag). They then accompany the principal on her morning tour to check to see which classroom has its attendance flag posted outside its door, signifying that all students arrived that day on time, and they finish their tour with a ceremonial photograph taken by one of the teachers. Later, at lunch, they get to sit at a special table with a friend or two of the student’s choice.

I saw two little boys bursting with pride at the honor they were accorded and the chance for a special visit with the principal.

Nothing fancy, and it cost pennies, but it was a nice way to honor students who are doing a good job. Plus, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “getting called to the principal’s office.”

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