The power of the Ditmann dollar

Who knew commerce would be taking place in the hallway of the third-and-fourth-grade building on Friday afternoon? Yet there was ICS volunteer Gianna Amsberry, hawking her wares.

[Today's blog is from Monitor correspondent Lee Lawrence.]

Who knew commerce would be taking place in the hallway of the third-and-fourth-grade building on Friday afternoon? Yet there was ICS volunteer Gianna Amsberry, hawking her wares.

At her feet were toys and stuffed animals customers bought earlier and would pick up after classes. On the desk before her, a blue plastic bin (a pan made for kitty litter, truth be told) is filled with plastic animals, crayons, the odd video, assorted toys and figurines as well as coupons for such luxuries as the privilege to sit in the classroom's comfy armchair and computer time.

Gianna said nothing as Behtoo, a second-grade student from Burma (Myanmar), pawed through the goodies with one hand; in the other, she clutched a wad of Ditmann dollars. The bills are about the size of Monopoly money and sport the Xeroxed principal Laurent Ditmann.

Behtoo had a walloping 16 bills.

Gianna and EIP (Early Intervention Program) math teacher Lynn Randolph started the presses rolling at the Ditmann Dollar Mint at the beginning of the term. They teach second- through fourth-graders who have fallen behind in math, which, as Lynn says, is often the result of poor study habits. So, now, she and Gianna reward children with Ditmann dollars when they pay attention, hand in homework and participate in class.

And when they misbehave? "Right now they get one warning; at the second warning, they lose a dollar," says Gianna.

Then every other Friday, the students get to spend their hard-earned money on treats teachers have donated.

Last Friday, the armchair privileges coupon caught Behtoo's eye.

"That is $20," Gianna tells her. Together, they calculate whether Behtoo can afford the comfort of upholstery. The coupon returns to the bin.

"You can buy five extra minutes of free time," Gianna offers. "Or lunch with a staff member ..."

This last option makes zero impression on Behtoo or on any of the other children who file, one by one, to the store that session). Behtoo fingers the extra free-time coupon, but just when it looks like she's going to buy it, she drops it in favor of a $7 toy piglet.

That leaves her with $9 to slip into her binder and grow.

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