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Red cup, green cup: Officials say system works

New to West elementary students this year is the colored cup code of silence.

When students first entered the gymnasium for lunch this school year at West, they saw one green cup on each lunch table.

It was explained to the students that a green cup on a table meant socializing while eating lunch was acceptable.

If, however, the noise level got to be too much, a yellow cup would be placed on the loudest table(s) as a warning to quiet down and use what Roger Kordus, associate principal at West Elementary, referred to as "indoor voices." Some parents have referred to the yellow cup voice as a "whisper."

If the yellow cup warning proved ineffective, the red cup of silence would be placed on the offending table(s) and that meant no talking - at all.

"We started the school year with the cups as a way to control the noise level during lunch in the gym," Kordus explained. "The staff attended a conference and learned about the cup system from other schools to use for noise control or to use in the classroom."

The cup system is a bit different if applied to individual classrooms. Each child is given a set of red, yellow and green cups. They put a green cup on their desk if everything is going well for them.

If a student has a question, a yellow cup on the desktop alerts the teacher and if the student puts a red cup on their desk, it means they require immediate attention, Kordus explained.

"In the gym last year it got very loud at lunch time," Kordus said. "We want children to develop social skills and to communicate, but they need to be able to hear each other to do that. With the cups, we've been able to lower the noise level."

While Kordus said the cup system has worked well throughout the semester, there were a few grades that were still on the noisy side.

The second and third graders were identified as having trouble keeping it down to a dull roar during lunch.

"After the Christmas holiday teachers wanted to try starting out with the red cup when the second and third graders came in," Kordus said. "Red first is a great way to start lunch quietly and earn their way to green. It only takes about two or three minutes to get to green."

So now when the second and third graders enter the gymnasium at lunch time every day, there is a red cup of silence on each lunch table.

If the youngsters maintain an acceptable volume level, they are rewarded first with a yellow, and finally a green cup on their table.

If the decibel level gets too high again, a yellow cup is placed back on the table as a reminder to quiet down.

"The kids respond to this," Kordus said. "We never have a silent gym. This is one strategy to control the noise level."

Parents comment

A letter to the editor appeared in the News last week on this very subject. Written by Michelle Arendt, parent of a second-grader at West, the letter took aim at the cup system.

Arendt frequently dines with her second grade son at West and said she finds the cup system to be "militaristic" and "unacceptable."

After keeping quiet in class so long, Arendt argued, kids need to socialize and talk with each other. Arendt finds the cup practice repressive to the children.

Another point Arendt made in a telephone interview, has to do with enforcement.

"Some teachers and aides on lunch duty don't enforce the no talking policy if the table has a red cup and some do," Arendt said. "The red cup tables try to be quiet if the teachers that enforce the rules are there."

Arendt said she's heard children shushing classmates when under a red cup rule, "taking on the attitude of a teacher."

Another parent of a second grader, Tracy Hansen, also weighed in on the subject of lunchroom cup discipline.

"I totally agree with Michelle," Hansen said in a phone interview Friday. "I was unaware of this system until I read her letter to the editor. My husband and I both work so we are not able to have lunch with our second grader, but I think the kids should be able to converse during lunch."

Last year Hansen did have an opportunity to have lunch with her child at West and she said she never saw "it out of control."

While Hansen is not opposed to discipline in the lunchroom, she prefers the students causing the noise to be accountable rather than an entire lunch table.

"It should be just like life," Hansen said. "You are the one accountable for your actions. At a job, if one employee acted inappropriately, the entire company wouldn't suffer the consequences."

Lisa Miller and her second grader are also not in favor of the cup system. Miller's daughter told her mom that her table always starts with a red cup and claims that's not fair "because some kids wreck it for the whole group."

Miller said she's "not a fan of the cup practice" although she understands there needs to be some order in the lunchroom.

On the other hand, Karen Johnson has lunch with her second-grader every Wednesday. Johnson said the cup on her son's table is always green when they begin lunch and she has never seen it moved to yellow or red.

Kelly Moore is the mother of a first-grader at West and a teacher's assistant there. Moore's first-grader is her third child to attend West. Moore said in an e-mail that she has had lunch with the children at West "approximately once a week for the past six years."

Moore works with the kindergarten class and said the cups in the gym during lunch are "always on green since I've been there."

She has also stopped by her daughter's lunch table periodically and has always seen the green cup on her table as well.

"I guess I wouldn't approve of them not being allowed to talk, but this sounds more like a reward system than being forbidden to talk all the time," Moore said. "I guess in all the years I've had kids attending West Elementary, I've never felt they were being unduly punished and not allowed to be kids."

The last word

Kordus "strongly disagrees" that the cup system is "militaristic."

Kordus said he has only had one complaint about the cups and that the "kids are compliant."

"With any type of behavior management, some kids won't like it," Kordus said. "Many kids thank me for coming by and replacing their red cup with a yellow one."

Although using the red cup first worked well, Kordus admitted it may be sending the wrong message.

"We are going to look at the effectiveness of this system," Kordus said, "make sure it's good for parents, kids and the school. We will talk about it and measure its effectiveness."