I went to a Catholic elementary school. It was the type of building that was stately from the front with massive doors and an elongated walkway to the entrance. However, if you took the profile from the side, it was just a rectangle box. As you opened the doors you were presented with a climb to the second floor. It was about 80 steel stairs up. Once you got to the top you were presented with a long dim hall with class rooms on each side. The first to the left was sixth grade, next on the right was fourth grade. Back to the left further down was fifth grade. Second and third flanked the ends. The hall culminated with the door to first grade. This building was old: steel and concrete with little or no insulation. Every morning to start school we’d all gather in the big hall and say parts of the rosary. A classmate of mine, Rhiannon, once passed out.
I have plenty of stories about this school and here’s a couple.
- In third grade I was put in charge of the heat. Being an old school it had a massive furnace in the basement. Occasionally the submarine style door would be open to it and I’d swear it was 120 degrees in there. Anyway, the heat was distributed to each classroom through coils near the windows. I sat next to the nob that allowed heat to come into the room. If someone was cold they had to come see me so I could turn the nob on. I have no idea why I was put in charge, but I performed the job well.
- In fifth grade we had daily spelling tests. Each student had a cheesy single month calendar taped to the wall near the windows. They were hot air balloons. Every time someone got a 100% on a spelling test they would get a small hot air balloon sticker to go along with the day of the week on the calendar. As the month would end, Kristin on her calendar had just about every day filled up with stickers and Jason had none. It was a visible cue about who scored well on the spelling tests and who didn’t. I looked at those balloons quite a bit and they motivated me to be near the best. I wanted to beat Kristin. The spelling test was practically secondary, it was just a means to an end – beating Drew, Patrick, and Kala.
Its 21 years later and I can vividly see those balloon stickers. They were the only colorful things in the school.
I wasn’t motivated to score well on the spelling test just for the sake of it. I didn’t care about it. But I was motivated by getting a sticker. A site called Ultrinsic.com is doing a similar thing with college student’s grades. The site allows you to open an account and make small wagers about your performance in different classes you are registered in. Think you’re getting an A in biology – bet $20 on it. The amount of the bet practically doesn’t matter. I’m so much more interested in a football game if I have $5 dollars on it. I normally wouldn’t care, but with $5 on it I want to see if I’m right and I will pull for whatever team reinforces my opinion.
I think a site like this can work out, but the problem I see with it is the time horizon is too long. Gambling is so powerful because of the immediate feedback of it. If I had to pony up money in September, by the time December rolls around I’ve considered it a lost cause. I had an opportunity at a sticker every day.
Unfortunately for my Catholic school, it didn’t pass a few of it’s own tests. The cost to keep it viable was too high and it’s now a green field… nevertheless, I can still see it.