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Great Expectations: Discipline Training in Schools Focusing on Prevention
photo
Students participate in a song with teachers
during a monthly rewards assembly at
Longfellow Elementary School Tuesday,
part
of the Positive Behavior Interventions and
Supports program.
Photo by Bruce Halmo/The Sheboygan Press

A new system of discipline called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, has been used successfully in other states but is just getting a foothold in Wisconsin, including the Sheboygan Area School District.

PBIS uses data to assess students' behavior, sets limits and rewards good behavior. According to research provided by the district, it focuses on prevention of bad behavior, defines and teaches positive social expectations and arranges consistent consequences for bad behavior.

In short, that means teachers are instructing children in what kind of behavior they should be using, the same way they teach any academic subject, said Tammy Olig, guidance counselor at Longfellow Elementary School and a member of the district's PBIS leaders team.

"What's happening? Where is it happening? What time? Can we see patterns?" Olig said. "It's like teaching reading or math - you teach the concepts, re-teach, follow up. We can't assume kids know things these things."

Teams from four elementary schools - Longfellow, Grant, Sheridan and Jefferson - started training more than a year ago for the first tier of the program, and more training for the complicated system is ongoing.

The program, with three levels of intervention for kids with behavioral issues, is complex for adults but the bottom line is simple: You get better behavior and more cooperation from kids if they know exactly what you want from them.

"It lays out very clearly what the expectations are for students," said Diane Wilcenski, assistant superintendent of student and instructional services. "They're taught the expectations and behaviors (teachers) want in school. Whatever the expectations are in Classroom A, the same expectations and language are used in Classroom B. The whole building is on the same system and everyone's on the same page."

The benefit of that, Wilcenski said, is that children are more secure, they know what's expected and they know exactly what will happen if they break the rules.

"It's just clearer for kids," Wilcenski said. "Research says if you're clear up front with kids with what's expected of them, they will behave that way. If kids don't know it, we have to teach it to them because otherwise how are they going to know? How are they going to learn what's expected of them?"

Special Education Initiative
Although PBIS is a universal program fit for all kids at all levels, the district can thank the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the money to pay for it, said Carol Blessing, coordinator of pupil services-special education.

SASD was identified as having a disproportionately high percentage of minority children classified as emotionally or behaviorally disabled, Blessing said. Because of that, she was allowed to funnel a percentage of roughly $2.2 million in federal grant money into training for PBIS with the goal of helping kids learn to manage their behavior and thus avoid being identified as special education students.

"By law I was allowed to give them 15 percent of that grant to provide some type of intervention that would help us … in a regular ed setting so we can provide training to teachers," Blessing said. "With the hope of reducing the numbers of special ed (students)."

Blessing chose the four schools by looking at the demographics of each school with an eye toward finding where those emotionally and behaviorally disabled kids might be coming from.

"It had to do with socioeconomic situations within the community and it just so happened these four schools were areas where we had pockets of students of lower socioeconomic status," Blessing said. "The idea is that we would provide those funds to use PBIS, and some daily interventions to provide more instruction to both parents and to kids and lower those rates of identification."

Rewards, Not Reprimands
Jefferson Elementary School principal Bill Klein said he has seen a marked difference in his school since PBIS went into effect.

The school has six areas that seem to bring out the worst in kids, Klein said - hallways, bathrooms, the lunchroom, the playground, the gym and during special events - and staff went over those areas and the school rules in depth at the beginning of the school year.

When kids are caught doing something right, they're given a reward. The rewards, called PAWS (Positive Attitudes Will Succeed), are tickets the kids earn for good behavior and are collected for a weekly drawing.

Each school handles its reward system its own way. At Jefferson, kindergarten through third-grade winners of the weekly drawing get prizes they can use in the classroom, such as notebooks and pencils; fourth- or fifth-graders get extra recess time.

On the flip side, rule-breaking gets a student a verbal warning first, and then a "white slip," called a minor report in other schools. A white slip earns the student a refresher course on school rules and a discussion about which rule was broken.

A collection of while slips adds up to bigger trouble, including contact from the teacher who is meting out the discipline with the child's parents.

So far, out of 315 students at Jefferson, only nine children have earned two or more white slips, Klein said.

"It's given students more ownership of their behavior," Klein said. "I've seen fantastic improvement in hallway and bathroom behavior. Students are telling each other, reminding each other about rules and I think that's been the real big change. It's not just the adults reminding. That's the coolest part here."

State Support
The Department of Public Instruction supports the use of the PBIS system in school, said Doug White, director of student services, prevention and wellness.

"It's not a mandate or a requirement," White said. "It isn't the only way to do behavioral work in schools but it's shown great promise in other states and that's why we're supporting it."

White said that unlike other methods of handling discipline in school, PBIS makes kids' behavior measurable and is consistent.

"As opposed to 'This is the way we've done it,' or every teacher setting his own rules, that vary from year to year," he said. "The norm unfortunately in many schools is all rules, and the expectations aren't necessarily clear. One of the first things the school does is agree on expectations for behavior. Then if students need additional support or help, it they're struggling to stay within the guidelines, they receive more intensive intervention."

So far, all the schools in SASD are on Tier One of the system, meaning they are using rewards and consequences for all students based on the agreed-upon set of rules and expectations.

Students who have trouble in Tier One then move up to Tier Two, in which teachers work with children more closely to help them succeed.

"It's the first time (the state has sanctioned) a disciplinary system this broad and systematic," White said. "We've provided training on in the past, but nothing this broad and all-encompassing."

In 2010, DPI is poised to open a PBIS training center in the state, though training will come to educators in regional sessions the way it's done now, White said.

In The Classroom
Amy Verhagen has been a teacher for eight years, the last four at Longfellow, and she sees a difference in the way the school operates and how she relates to all kids in the school because of PBIS.

"The effect I see in my classroom, is it gives me more of an opportunity to provide students with daily feedback about their behavior and just celebrate the good things that they're doing," she said. "It defines what respect looks like and feels like at Longfellow School."

Early in the school year, Verhagen spotted a first-grade girl standing quietly in line, and gave her a paw for her effort. Since that day, that little girl smiles at Verhagen every morning.

"It really gives you an opportunity to make kids feel good about themselves, and they remember that," she said. "It's not a threatening kind of thing, 'You're in trouble.' You're teaching them what you want to see."

Sheboygan Press Article - Janet Ortega

Sheboygan Area School District Press Release
December 20, 2009