BEDFORD CO., Va. -

A new principal's new idea has changed the culture for the better at Stewartsville Elementary School, and it's showing in academic performance too.

It's called Responsive Classroom.

Susan Mele got to Stewartsville Elementary School four years ago and had problems having to discipline and even suspend students.

But instead of getting meaner, she got nicer.    

"All the students feel accepted within the classrooms," said 5th grade teacher Sandra Gisiner.

In her first year at Stewartsville Elementary School, Susan Mele had 172 discipline referrals from teachers.

Get this, ten percent of the student body had been suspended.

Now, "Our whole culture and climate has changed," Mele says.

Last year, those numbers were down 75%.

The theory behind Responsive Classroom is simple: Be Respectful. Be Social. Be a good citizen.

"The program itself consists of teaching strategies that blend a social curriculum with an academic curriculum," said Mele.

"The word respect is a key in my classroom and I usually tell them that is the only expectation that I have," added Sandra Gisiner.

Here's the idea: If kids truly get to know and respect each other, they'll be nicer to each other.

If they're nicer to each other then it creates a better learning environment.

"Students get off the bus, they're greeting each other, they're greeting me. If you pass in the hall they say good morning. They are opening doors for each other, they are helping each other in anyway they can which was not happening before," Susan Mele added.

These students changing their behavior wasn't easy, but they learned how to listen, how to be respectful, and how to be fair.

How do we get everyone to do that?