STONINGTON — Polka Dot, Miss King, and Peach munched on hay and eyed the rows of students seated on the playground Friday afternoon at Deans Mill School.
The cows, who belong to Mike and Elisha Riley of Manatuck Farm in Stonington, were visiting the school as a special reward for students who had demonstrated positive behavior, which is measured by filling buckets with pompoms. The Rileys also have two children who attend Deans Mill school.
“We asked our friends, the Rileys, if we could borrow a cow and they brought three!” Principal Jen McCurdy announced as the kindergarten through fourth graders laughed and clapped. “It’s three because today, Ms. McCurdy, and then Mr. Bousquet and the teacher whose class filled the most buckets will be challenged to kiss a cow!”
The student body erupted into cheers as Thomas Bousquet, assistant principal, asked for a vote on which cow McCurdy would kiss. The students chose Polka Dot, an 8-year-old brown and white cow, and the largest of the three.
Applying lipstick first, McCurdy stepped forward and kissed Polka Dot’s furry face, to loud cheers and laughter from the children.
Next, the students chose Miss King, a 1-year-old, medium-sized, mostly-brown cow for Bousquet, who laughed heartily when he bestowed a smacker on the cow’s furry brow.
After a few moments of suspense, McCurdy announced that second grade teacher Brittany Sutera’s class was the bucket-filling winner. That left Peach, a black and white calf who was born in September, as Sutera’s choice, and she left a bright red lipstick mark on the white fur of his forehead to enthusiastic cheers.
By phone later that afternoon, Bousquet said the assembly was part of a positive behavioral program the school has run for four years. “It aligns with our school social contract called WISH,” he said. It means Work together, I treat others as I want to be treated, be Safe, and Have fun learning.
“Throughout the school day, as part of our positive behavioral support program, students have the opportunity to earn pompoms to fill buckets,” he said. “Basically it’s when they’re doing good things. It could working really hard in class, being kind to another classmate, or helping out another classmate, being a good citizen of the school, being really safe or making a really good decision.”
Teachers and staff members acknowledge positive behavior by giving students a pompom or pompoms. When students fill a bucket, they get an award, said Bousquet, who has been assistant principal for three years. Some of the awards are activities like reading a story or playing a game with one of the school principals. For more buckets, students can have a dance party or get extra recess time.
Deans Mill has three bucket challenges a year for bigger rewards, and Kiss-A-Cow fell into that category. Other bucket challenge rewards include throwing a pie in the principal’s face and pouring a bucket of water on the principal.
“Today we had a bucket challenge, so from September through November, the challenge was for each grade level to earn 10 buckets and if they did, they could participate in our assembly today,” he said. The students earned 54 buckets, surpassing the school goal of 50.
Eight students were also acknowledged for filler referrals.
“That’s when kids do something way above and beyond,” said Bousquet. “The teacher or the staff send a certificate to the office and fill out the referral, then Ms. McCurdy or myself meet with the kid, acknowledge them for their really positive behavior, talk about it, and then reach out to the parent to communicate the really good thing that happened.”
“We try to come up with fun ideas that will really get the kids excited to work hard,” he added.
And what was it like kissing a cow?
“It was a first!” he laughed. “The kids got a big kick out of it.”