IRRIGON - Willie Velazquez can't remember how many yellow slips of paper he's received since the beginning of the school year.

"I put them up all over the place," said the seventh-grader at Columbia Middle School.

The slips of yellow paper flutter like giant butterflies every time the front door opens to the school and make the hallways and the main stairwell look alive and breathing.

The walls are crowded with "Atta-Boys" and "Atta-Girls," small award-like slips of paper that teachers use to give positive reinforcement to their students.

And it could be for almost anything.

Velazquez received Atta-Boys for finishing his spelling test, scoring a 100 percent on some workbook assignments and for just being a good student.

The reasons may be small, said Bill DeBoard, the assistant principal at Columbia, but the results are enormous.

It's not necessary for students to score As to receive an Atta-Boy or Atta-Girl, DeBoard said.

"They could go from a failing grade to something better," he said. "They like to be shown that they're doing something great, that someone will take the time, spell their names right and give them positive reinforcement.

"They like the carrot more than the stick," DeBoard added.

Students take the slips they receive from their teachers to DeBoard at lunch time and also receive a piece of candy.

"The watermelon Jolly Rancher is my favorite," Velazquez said.

Students might receive a couple of pieces of candy for decorating their slips.

What the school doesn't accept are slips that have been defamed. Instead, DeBoard likes to see students make positive comments on each other's slips.

"The kids use that as a recognition between themselves," he said.

White copies are sent home for parents to see. Or in one case, to find later, DeBoard said. A junior at Riverside High School asked DeBoard when he saw him if he could still get candy for an Atta-Boy he received in seventh grade.

The several hundreds of slips will come down during the winter break to make room for the many more expected to go up during the second half of the school year.

"We must go through 2,000 to 3,000 of them," he said. "I would know since I have to reorder them every year."

Velazquez likes the idea of earning more, as long as his friends earn their own Atta-Boys and Atta-Girls too.

"They try to get my candy from me," he said. "I tell them to get their own. 'I earned this.'"

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