On the last Friday of the month, students at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School receive a visit from one cool cat.
The school’s wildcat mascot, PAWS, spends time in each classroom giving high-fives and fist bumps, dancing and helping hand out special prizes as a reward for good behaviors.
PAWS stands for Positive attitude, Act responsibly, Work together and Show kindness and respect.
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Throughout the month, teachers and staff hand out PAWS tickets to students who demonstrate the PAWS way, and one student from each classroom is chosen as the Wildcat of the Month. These students get special recognition in front of their peers and get to choose an item from the PAWS prize wagon.
“It’s the Wildcat Way, everyone, every day,” students chant together during every PAWS visit.
It’s all a part of Jackson’s PBIS, or Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, program. And the results are worth talking about, said Principal Justin Brown.
“Our discipline referrals are down 20%,” Brown said. “PBIS is improving our overall school climate and culture. Students and staff are speaking the same language and it’s showing.”
The program is based on the belief all children can learn proper behavior, said Katie Leitzman, PBIS specialist for Seymour Community School Corp.
Students are taught about behavior expectations through PBIS just like they are taught math and language arts, she said.
And those expectations can change based on different school settings. For example, a child’s behavior on the playground and cafeteria doesn’t have to be the same as in the classroom.
“Each child is different, and through PBIS, we can provide many types of research-based behavior support,” Leitzman said. “It is a preventative measure and a way to encourage appropriate behaviors and improve school safety.”
Believing in the positive impact of PBIS, the school corporation created Leitzman’s position at the beginning of the current school year using grant funding.
“The decision to have a PBIS specialist at SCSC began about two years ago when we recognized the need to support our students with systematic, research-based programming,” said Mika Ahlbrand, director of special education.
This is the first planning year for PBIS implementation at the elementary level, but improvements in behavior already are being documented.
At Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, student enrollment is up by 73 students, but discipline referrals are down, said Principal Tony Hack.
The same can be said at Seymour-Redding Elementary School, where 53 fewer discipline referrals have been made this year compared to last year, said Principal Steve Bush.
Each school has a PBIS team in place that meets monthly to work on goals. They have been focusing on creating behavior expectations for different areas, coming up with lesson plans to teach those expectations to students and developing an effective reward system.
PBIS operates on three different levels in conjunction with the schools’ behavioral Response to Intervention, or RTI, plans. The first step is the schoolwide supports that are put into place for every student, the second level is targeted intervention for those who need additional support to manage behavior and the third step is an intensive level of support.
“Through the tiered system, it is the team’s goal to put interventions into place that allow the student to be successful in the classroom,” Leitzman said.
But PBIS isn’t just for behavior at school, Leitzman said. Parents can get involved, too, by being aware of and practicing behavior strategies at home.
“One great strategy for parents to try at home is to monitor their ration of interactions with their children,” she said.
In PBIS, teachers are encouraged to have a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to corrective interactions.
“This increases the feeling of connectedness and creates a stronger sense of belonging in students,” Leitzman said.
Teachers and parents also should be specific in their praise. For example, thanking a child for stepping outside their comfort zone and reading aloud.
“Research has shown that saying ‘good job’ is not enough,” Leitzman said. “By praising behavior specifically, the chances of that behavior repeating increase.”
The schools are working to keep parents up to date with PBIS information and opportunities in school newsletters and on their websites.
In addition, the corporation is planning to offer professional development opportunities for teachers related to PBIS this summer.
“Right now, we are on Year 1 of a five-year implementation plan,” Leitzman said. “We will continue to dig into our data to drive future PBIS work, including but not limited to examining our welcome procedures, parent outreach and discipline data.”
Ahlbrand said the PBIS system is benefiting all students and making a noticeable positive impact on grades, attendance and outcomes.
“We are proud of our staff and students’ hard work in this area,” she said.