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Dave and Buster’s gives nearly $12,000 to Berkmar, Meadowcreek, Brookwood schools

Volunteer Bryan James, far left, Dave and Buster’s general manager DeVon Kelley, School Board member Louise Radloff and Kelly James pose for a picture after Dave and Buster’s donated $11,700 to schools in the Berkmar, Brookwood and Meadowcreek clusters in the form of certificates and game cards. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

Volunteer Bryan James, far left, Dave and Buster’s general manager DeVon Kelley, School Board member Louise Radloff and Kelly James pose for a picture after Dave and Buster’s donated $11,700 to schools in the Berkmar, Brookwood and Meadowcreek clusters in the form of certificates and game cards. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Volunteer Bryan James, far left, Dave and Buster’s general manager DeVon Kelley, School Board member Louise Radloff and Kelly James pose for a picture after Dave and Buster’s donated $11,700 to schools in the Berkmar, Brookwood and Meadowcreek clusters in the form of certificates and game cards. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

DULUTH — Thanks to Dave and Buster’s, students in the Berkmar, Brookwood and Meadowcreek clusters will have a little more incentive to excel in the classroom.

The Duluth location of Dave and Buster’s donated on Wednesday $11,700 in certificates and game cards to principals of the schools to use for staff recognition and a program called Positive Behavior Intervention Support, which encourages students to have positive behavior in the classroom. Each school will receive 10 staff recognitions to be awarded this school year.

“That’s a lot for a Title (I) school,” said School Board member Louise Radloff, who represents the areas that include those clusters. “It also says something about the business community getting behind the schools. … When behavior is good, performance is better.”

The partnership was sparked by volunteer and parent Bryan James, who approached DeVon Kelley, general manager of the Duluth location Dave and Buster’s, about four years ago. The in-kind donation began at Sweetwater Middle, Richards Middle and McConnell Middle, but has spread to neighboring schools and now reaches nearly 30 schools in those clusters.

“We look at the community here and the students, and there’s always a big need, and we give back and support,” Kelley said. “I know (teachers) put a lot of personal time and efforts into it. It’s not just there in the classroom.”

James said the donation helps to close the need gap that booster clubs and Parent Teacher Associations don’t fill.

“In economically-challenged areas where you’re fighting engagement and poverty, this is big because those teachers may not get recognized, because there’s nothing in the coffers,” James said.

James said he’s heard anecdotal examples of success from Sweetwater Assistant Principal Ammie Butorac. Sweetwater allowed students to collect “power coins” as currency and redeem them in the school store to upgrade the value of a drink or bag of chips for credit at Dave and Buster’s.

“That created the sustainable part of the strategy,” James said. “What is the behavior to get it, and the sustainable is to know what it takes to earn more.”

While Dave and Buster’s corporate charity effort mainly supports the Make-A-Wish foundation, Kelley said this is one of the largest local charitable efforts for his restaurant, and about double its contribution to Make-A-Wish.

“The program started off at Sweetwater, and you can see the need at that one school,” Kelley said. “From there relationships have developled, and we added a school and added a school and it’s grown over the years. We started off fairly small and it’s grown each year. … We looked at our budgets and looked at our community and decided this is not something we’re going to back away from.”