Soehl Middle School kicked off the Tigers Club this year, a reward system that gives top students gold and platinum cards for good grades, attendance and behavior. The cards carry special perks in and out of school. From left above are Camrin Blair, Derek Stash, Karol Kozak, Kyndra Green and Jodarsen Pierre.

staff and students posing around an orange rock painted to say Soehl Middle School

Soehl Middle School Principal Richard Molinaro, guidance counselor Caitlin Sanders, and social studies teacher Peter Citera with members of the Tigers Club. From left are Courtney Mills, Jennifer Tavares, Joseph Fitz, Kris Ordonez and Cassidy Moore.

By Gary Miller

At Soehl Middle School, the top performing students are as good as gold. And platinum!

The school began a program this year known as the Tigers Club, which rewards students for top grades and good attendance with special perks in and out of school.

Students across all grade levels who meet the high standards are given gold or platinum ID cards that they wear with their student IDs to let everyone know they are in the exclusive club. It gives them a certain status among teachers and their peers, and gives them discounts at school events and local businesses, and special surprises during the school day.

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“There are so many kids who are doing the right thing all the time, and we just want to see them rewarded,” said guidance counselor Caitlin Sanders, who organized the club with social studies teacher Peter Citera, who hatched the idea.

About 30 students achieved platinum status after the first marking period, and another 30 reached gold. Students must get all A’s to get a Platinum card, and all A’s and up to two B’s for a Gold card. To reach either level, students must have no more than one unexcused absence, no more than one unexcused tardy, and no disciplinary points.

two photos of student posing in hand-held frames that says Tigers Club Soehl Middle School

Tigers Club members posing after receiving their gold and platinum cards at the start of the second marking period.

Students who reach those marks for the first marking period get cards for the second marking period. Other students have a chance to gain entry to the club after the second marking period – and club members must hit the high mark again to keep their cards.

“These are things they should be doing anyway,” said Principal Richard Molinaro, who was excited when Citera brought him the idea for the Tigers Club. “They should be coming to school to get good grades; they should be getting here on time; they should have a good disciplinary record. So we’re just recognizing the students who really do what they’re supposed to do.

“And they have to use their IDs with it, which is another thing we try to get students to do. So it’s really a win, win, win, win, win all the way around.”

Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi applauded Soehl’s new initiative.

“We always want to make sure to praise outstanding students to let them know their hard work is appreciated,” he said. “Mr. Citera and Ms. Sanders deserve their own platinum cards for coming up with a creative and fun way to recognize top students and give others the incentive to do their best every day.”

staff posing with large group of students

Tigers Club platinum members.

So what’s in it for the Tigers Club members?

“My favorite perk is they can skip to the front of the lunch line in the cafeteria if they have Platinum membership,” Citera said. “I see kids use it consistently and it makes them feel good about what they’re doing, and it makes them feel like they’re recognized.”

Gold and platinum members also get a free item at the Soehl Smart bake sale, two free crafts at the school’s holiday craft bazaar, free admission to Soehl Smart after-school events, and 50 percent off two items at the holiday bazaar. They are also entered into a raffle to win AMC movie tickets, desserts at Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant, Visa gift cards, and coupons for Jersey Mike’s subs.

On top of those, Platinum members get an hour of laser tag at the Launch Trampoline Park in Linden when they purchase an hour of jumping time on Friday nights.

Another big treat was a surprise movie day shortly before winter break. Students were called to the auditorium for a special members-only viewing of “Smallfoot,” with popcorn and drinks.

“They loved it,” Sanders said. “We wanted to make sure everyone knew that they were getting a reward for being in this club. I heard a lot of other kids saying, ‘What?! They get to watch a movie?’ That’s the reaction that we wanted. We want them to WANT to be in the club.”

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staff posing with large group of students

Tigers Club gold members.

Citera said he got the idea for the Tigers Club from a high school in Pennsylvania that had a similar club, but that he’s never heard of anything similar at a middle school.

“You hear announcements on the loud speaker about students who would have to report to the office for behavioral issues or discipline issues,” he said. “But I don’t think we hear enough about the students who are high-achieving — students who come in every day and tune out the negativity and just focus on the task at hand.”

Citera brought the idea to Molinaro, whose reaction was, “We have to jump on this right away.”

They told students about it at the start of the school year, but the students weren’t really sure what it was about until posters went up promoting membership, and then finally when the first members were announced after the first marking period.

“For this age group, seeing is believing,” Citera said. “It’s great to see the students rally around it. In the days after they were given their Tigers Club ID cards, we saw that there were other students who wanted to be part of it, and that was really the purpose behind it.”

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students sitting in the dark watching a screen

Tigers Club members watching "Littlefoot" after they were surprised to find out they were going to watch a movie with popcorn and drinks.

The next step is to make sure the Tigers Club continues to grow and thrive. Sanders and Citera are looking for more community involvement and support from local businesses who can offer perks to members. They would like to organize some kind of year-end trip or field day for the students, as well.

“It’s very early in the process and I think local businesses wanted to see if we have our act together,” Citera said. “But now it’s visible and it’s physical. I think hopefully now we’re going to get more people involved. It’s going to keep building each year.”

Any community members or businesses who want to help build the program or offer incentives to students can email Sanders at csanders@lindenps.org, or call Soehl at 908-486-0550.

“It’s a really positive thing,” Molinaro said. “Anything you do in the school, you always get feedback both positive and negative, regardless. But here we really didn’t get any negatives, and I really don’t see how you could. It was a great idea.”