Incentive program catching on with students, teachers

Jan. 18, 2014 @ 04:54 PM

Last week, all the students at Henderson Middle School flooded the gym for a mysterious pep rally where they would learn what was meant by “Step Up is coming.”

Over the past couple months, teachers and administration have been building momentum to introduce positive behavior supports to the school with posters and even a teacher-produced video where kids guessed what they thought was coming.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or Positive Behavioral Supports, teaches social behavior through a school-wide system that clearly defines expected positive behavior and problem behaviors as well as their consequences.

This approach encourages students by offering effective incentives and motivational systems that support and reward students who choose positive behaviors.

The modern approach to discipline was developed by researchers at the University of Oregon and the National Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports in the 1990s and was adopted by traditional public schools in North Carolina by 2007.

There were 528 schools participating in the PBIS program at the end of 2006-2007, which is slightly more than 20 percent of the public schools in the state.

By fall 2014, all 10 elementary schools in Vance County will have implemented the program, according to Tandra Henderson, countywide PBIS coordinator.

Aycock, New Hope and Yancey elementary schools are introducing PBIS this year, she said.

At the “Step Up” pep rally, teacher Lemondre Watkins explained this new system where students can earn tickets for positive behaviors, outlined in a behavior matrix posted in the school, and then use those tickets for prizes throughout the year.

The first prize is a school dance at the end of the month that students can only attend if they have 20 tickets.

Watkins and several other teachers went to a PBIS workshop through the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and began a conversation about bringing the program to Henderson Middle.

Principal John Hargrove had experience with the program at other schools, including Zeb Vance Elementary.

“We needed a system in place to help teachers and students change the overall climate of the school,” Hargrove said. “It helps put order in place and keep academics at the forefront, but at the same time having discipline under control.”

He said the system provides structure for students at an impressionable age.

“I think one thing we fall short of is we assume kids know how to behave,” she said. “We have to teach behavior.”

Henderson Middle’s Step Up behavior matrix is a full-page table that lists locations along the top of the columns and positive values along the side of the rows. The table describes specific ways that students can be respectful, responsible and safe in the bathroom, cafeteria, hallways, assemblies and classrooms.

For example, students know they must be respectful in the hallways by remaining silent and responsible by walking on the right side in a line.

The matrix uses positive statements by telling students what they should do, rather than telling them what they should not do. Instead of “no talking,” the matrix instructs students to “walk silently.”

Sixth-grade math teacher Veronica Lopez said she can see small changes happening in her class, even after one week.

“In the hallways, our expectation is that kids walk on the right side and are quiet,” she said. “But we would have masses of kids so that you can’t even get from one class to the next. These are small hallways and there are three classrooms back here so when you change classes you need it to be a smooth transition.”

The class change transition could waste time, she said, and PBIS offers a framework for structure throughout the school.

“With this they are coming straight in and sitting down because they really want that ticket,” she said. “They really like that they can get attention in a positive way.”

Anne Garrison, principal of Zeb Vance Elementary, started PBIS at her school in fall 2006 and has been improving the system with her staff every year since.

Teachers wrote more than 1,700 office referrals at Zeb Vance for discipline during the 2003-2004 school year, the year before Garrison arrived.

By 2009-2010 school year, the office referrals for discipline were down to 117 and there were less than 30 during last school year.

“Teachers got away from grabbing the referral and writing students up,” Garrison said. “They started to build relationships with the kids and it made a huge difference.”

The PBIS model at Zeb Vance uses the school mascot, the eagle, to illustrate expectations in the behavior matrix.

The eagles SOAR, which stands for show self-control, offer peer support, actively listen and learn, and respect everyone.

“All our kids have an eagle and their eagle soars to different colored bulletin boards over the course of the nine-week grading period,” Garrison said. “If they have positive behavior during one week their eagle gets to fly to a different colored bulletin board and the goal is to get to gold team.”

The eagles, marked with the student’s name and picture, starts at the red bulletin board and progresses through the other boards colored orange, yellow, green, purple, bronze and gold.

“They are empowered by it,” Garrison said. “They see their eagles on the board, their parents see the eagles, they talk about it and want their eagle to be able to fly so at the end of nine weeks they earn gold team party.”

The kids who have their eagle reach the gold bulletin board by the end of the nine weeks are rewarded with a special treat, like movie and popcorn or game night.

Garrison said one of the obstacles of implementing the system was getting teachers to buy-in and change their mind frame about discipline.

“We as adults get set in our ways,” she said. “I think it was difficult in the beginning just getting teachers to understand how they had a part in making this program work, and getting staff to understand that change can work. We get complacent and set in our ways and change is hard.”

Marylaura McKoon, former assistant principal at Zeb Vance, said the administration at her old school had to work with teachers to get them on board.

“When you are first getting started, it is more about the adults than the students,” she said.

Now principal at Young Elementary, she has made changes to the system at her school and faces some familiar challenges.

But McKoon is optimistic about the system in the long run.

“These teachers are seeing I believe in our kids and it’s important for us to empower our kids to be leaders,” she said.

Lopez also has high hopes for the program at Henderson Middle.

“This is not something that we feel is going to happen this year,” Lopez said. “It is going to be when the sixth-grade kids get to eighth grade that this school is going to look totally different.”

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.