Seventh-graders Eric Wilder, Sophia Mercaldi, seated, and Giuliana Rosano participated...

Seventh-graders Eric Wilder, Sophia Mercaldi, seated, and Giuliana Rosano participated in, like, an experiment, at Holy Child Academy in Old Westbury. Credit: Pat Mullooly

Students have four things they must do every day in my English classes: read, write, talk and listen. They are assigned reading homework every night, they write every day, and they are asked to participate and listen to their teacher and peers every day.

It’s not a lot to ask, but this school year we have added a new thing: not to be “ummingbirds.”

I have, um, like six classes, and each class is filled with ummingbirds, and we think we’ve found a fun way to make them stop chirping.

Many fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students start their sentences using words such as um, so, like and actually. Not to mention words and phrases such as: I mean, literally, wait and oh. The list is annoyingly long: Bro, it’s sick.

This year at our school, Holy Child Academy in Old Westbury, we started something new. Every time a student uses one of the chosen words or phrases in class, that student has to put a penny in a pot. We posted a list of words and phrases on the wall. The students voted on this little endeavor the first week of school, and we received 100% parental and school approval for our fun venture.

Early in the school year, we had one student owe 15 cents after she finished telling a story. Now, she thinks before she speaks, and it costs her nothing to speak her mind.

When we first started this, some students were hesitant to speak, but when they saw that no one was being bullied, their hands shot up again in class.

Let’s face it: We’re all guilty of doing this — including me. I start too many sentences with the word “so.” When the students hear me say one of the chosen words or phrases, I also have to put a penny in the pot. I keep a stack of pennies on my desk. Actually, I try to keep a stack of pennies on my desk.

We have all become classroom police officers, raising our hands when someone uses a chosen word. We have come a long way since September. It’s made us aware and careful about what we say, and we want to pay attention to what others are saying — not just for content but for the pennies.

Initially, we had big plans for the money. At the end of the school year, we were going to have a party to celebrate our awareness of how we speak.

But wait, um, since then it has gotten even better. One student has diabetes, monitors her sugar intake and is careful with her eating habits. Her wonderful and caring classmates look out for her if they notice changes.

Earlier in the year, Sophia asked whether we could have a fundraising walk for juvenile diabetes at our school. With all the different events going on, it has been a challenge finding an open date. But we wanted to help our classmate and JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Rather than have a party, the students voted to donate the pennies to JDRF in Sophia’s name. It was, like, literally, a great idea. So, that’s the plan. We do, however, have mixed feelings about it: We hope to give a lot, but we’re hoping not to give too much because we want to improve the way we speak.

Our change is good on so many levels.

Reader Pat Mullooly lives in Garden City.



DON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access